County jobless rate: 'A direct recessionary hit'

Caught between a sagging economy and an increasing population, Jackson County recorded a 7.6 percent jobless rate in October, the highest mark for that month since the present unemployment tracking system was put in place in 1990.

A estimated 8,087 workers were unemployed, according to Oregon Employment Department figures, more than 1,000 above September's figures and nearly 2,900 above a year ago.

While the county's population was much smaller at the time, it's been more than a quarter of a century since that many workers were unemployed.

Guy Tauer, a regional economist with the Employment Department, said the areas of weakness are not surprising.

"There are the compounding affects of layoffs and slowness in a wide variety of sectors, such as housing, construction and retail trade," said Tauer.

"Usually you have seasonal lows in construction, but I don't know if we had a seasonal high this year. There were 400 single-family residence permits issued through September, and if you go back to 2004 or 2005, there were as many as 1,600."

Comparable data, as determined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, don't go back beyond 1990. However, under the previous methodology, 8,130 workers were out of jobs in October 1981, which was a 12.3 percent unemployment rate at the time.

"But that's not an apples-to-apples comparison," Tauer said.

The previous jobless high for the month of October under the present recording system was 6.9 percent in 1992. That was followed by a spike to 7.5 percent in November and December that year.

There were actually more jobs in October than September. With the state higher education system returning to life last month and retailers adding to their payroll, 740 jobs were created.

Southern Oregon largely escaped the 2001-2003 downturn that hit the northern portion of the state, Tauer said.

"This time, we appear to be in the crosshairs of an increasingly direct recessionary hit."

The increase in unemployment partly reflects an increase in potential workers. The total number of people in the county employed or looking for work grew by more than 2,000 over a year ago — 106,703 currently compared with 104,484 in October 2007.

A recently released population study by Portland State University indicated between July 1, 2007 and July 1, 2008, the county population grew by nearly 3,000 to 205,305.

"Most of that is coming from in-migration," Tauer said.

Although there is no official agency tracking such matters in the state, Tauer noted the Office of Economic Analysis' latest Economic and Revenue Forecast indicated Oregon is in recession.

Job losses in October came in a variety of sectors. Leisure and hospitality saw a decline of 340 jobs, with 240 of those in accommodations and food services. Construction dropped 80 jobs, while manufacturing lost 110 positions, primarily because of weakness in the building materials industry. Financial activities, transportation, warehousing utilities and as information employment all trimmed employment.

On the positive side of the job ledger, the medical community added new positions and the federal government brought in more jobs as well.

"Health care and social assistance have shown to be downturn resistant," Tauer said. "We're up more than 300 jobs and it's also one of the few bright spots statewide."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

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