Oregon’s unemployment rate surged to 9% in December from 8% in November, the state Employment Department said.

The seasonally adjusted reading was the worst since April 1985 and 1.8 percentage points higher than the U.S. rate of 7.2%. Oregon’s jobless rate has risen by 3.6 percentage points in the past year, jumping from 5.4% in December 2007. The number of unemployed workers reached 174,819, the highest since January 1983 and a two-thirds increase over the past year.

Payrolls dropped by 9,700 last month. The job losses were broad-based, with declines in the leisure and hospitality, construction, manufacturing, government and trade, transportation, and utilities sectors. The only major industry category that posted significant gains was education and health services.

Oregon’s unemployment rate was the second-highest in the Far West, even before the December surge, which may have pushed it to the highest in the region. Not all states have reported yet. Oregon lawmakers and Gov. Ted Kulongoski are working on a partially bond-financed economic stimulus packages.

“We must act as soon as possible to put Oregonians to work,” Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said after the report. “The Joint Ways and Means Committee will consider a package of bond-funded projects that will create 1,500 or more jobs over the next few months. I hope this will be the first step toward a bolder, broader jobs and revitalization plan.”

Kulongoski has proposed increasing gasoline taxes and car registration fees to increase annual transportation infrastructure spending by $500 million. He is seeking to jump-start the program with as much as $685 million in bonds.

He asked for federal assistance after seeing the December jobs numbers.

“Today’s employment numbers reinforce the need for a strong federal and state partnership and immediate action at both the federal and state levels to make investments that put Oregonians back to work,” the governor said. “We must also do our part at the state level by quickly passing legislation that puts Oregonians back to work and improves the quality and safety of our infrastructure.”


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