Bella Malherbe writes out a chalkboard sign at The Kitchen on Court Street letting customers know about new procedures during the first phase of Salem's reopening on Friday, May 22. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

After months of dire economic news amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Salem area saw an indication that things are returning to normal.

Numbers released by the Oregon Employment Department Tuesday show that the unemployment rate dropped to 12.7% for May, down from the 13.1% rate in April. While the unemployment rate is still at levels not seen in over a decade, the numbers show that more people are returning to work after much of the economy was closed as a result of the pandemic.  

“Overall the Salem area has seen pretty similar changes to the labor market that we have seen statewide and nationally in recent months,” said Patrick O’Connor, a regional economist with the Employment Department, in an email.

According to the department, total nonfarm jobs in the Salem area increased by 1,600 in May. Normally, a gain of 900 jobs would be expected, according to the department. In total, there were 199,845 jobs in the Salem area for May. A year ago, there were 200,385 jobs.

The Salem area followed trends in the rest of the state, which has seen clamps on its economy steadily lifted. The statewide unemployment rate in May was 14.2%, down from the revised April rate of 14.9%.

The leisure and hospitality industry accounted for much of the Salem area’s increase in employment, adding 1,100 jobs or a 14.3% increase. Construction employment increased 700 in May, a monthly gain of 6.6%. Retail trade added 600 jobs, a 3.5% increase.

O’Connor said that the gains in the private sector were tempered by losses in the public sector and governments bracing for budget cuts.

State government, a large employer in the Salem area, stayed relatively steady but lost jobs. In May, there were 19,300 state government jobs in the Salem area, a decrease of a thousand from the month before. There were 18,800 local government jobs in the Salem area in May after losing 500 jobs. Local education jobs dropped by 600 to 10,800 for May.

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Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.