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Building slide jolts lumbering

The predicted economic recession has hit with a perceptible thud in the Pacific Northwest. A wave of layoffs in the wood-products and home-building industries has signaled a slump that may be as severe as the serious one of 1974 -75.

Some sectors of the national economy have continued to thrive despite the predictions of economic gloom and doom. But housing has tumbled badly. So the downturn in the Pacific Northwest has come on schedule with the inevitability of signs of spring.

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Particularly hard hit is the plywood industry.Twelve of the 76 plywood mills on Oregon, the national leader in plywood manufacture, were shut down before April 1. Shutdowns and production curtailments are also widespread in Washington State. The Tacoma-based American Plywood Association figured that by the end of March one-third of the 4,500 plywood industry workers in the state would be out of work.

The Oregon State Employment Division has not yet spoken of a recession. However, employment in the construction industry in February was 5 percent below February 1979, and employment in plywood and veneer mills has already reached the low figure of 1975.

One bright spot has been in lumber-mill employment where February figures for Oregon showed several thousand more than the 22,000 employed at the low point of the 1974-75 recession.

Don Steward, head of the Oregon Employment Division statistics section, reported plywood and veneer mill employment for February at 20,800, down 3,150 from a year ago. Lumber-mill workers on the job numbered 27,500 down 800 from last year.

The number of workers in the woods actually getting out the timber also was an encouraging note with an increase of some 2,700 workers over the 11,100 last year. The increase in forest activity was attributed to better February weather this year along with the increased demand from pulp and paper manufacturers for pulp-grade logs because of a drying up of wood waste supplies from closed or slowed-down plywood operations.

The housing construction downturn may be having an exaggerated effect because it is worse in the Pacific Northwest, home of the wood building products industry, than it is in the country as a whole.


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