Retail leads improvement in Jackson County's jobless rate

Retail is the here and now — and the future — for most of Jackson County’s job growth as new big-box stores are opening and existing stores are beefing up staffs for the holidays.

“With the new construction at Northgate Marketplace and the ripple effect from (south Medford) Walmart across the community, retail is definitely a bright spot in the local economy,” said Guy Tauer, a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department. “Going forward, we’re certainly going to see a good chunk of the jobs created in the retail sector.”

A combination of modest job creation and a smaller Jackson County labor force produced a 10.8 percent seasonally adjusted jobless rate in August, down from 11.7 percent a year earlier. Figures compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed 90,040 people worked in the county during August, up from 89,452 a year earlier. When it came to non-farming payroll, the 74,910 August count exceeded the 2011 figure by 2.1 percent, or 1,520.

Retail produced 1,140 more jobs in August than last year and 320 more than July.

Tauer said Office of Economic Analysis figures indicate communities outside the Portland Metropolitan Area will continue struggling with job creation.

“Outside of Portland, growth will be steady, but not rapid,” Tauer said. Portland will get the lion’s share. Of the 25,000 jobs created in the past year, 1,500 were in the Medford area.”

Tauer said Jackson County finds itself with roughly as many jobs as it did a decade ago — just before the economy heated up.

“We lost nearly 10 percent of our employment base and are back to where we were in 2002-2004,” he said. “We had bubble-level employment, and it will take a while to get those jobs back. Growth was rapid, and one could argue that it’s hard to sustain that level of employment without stronger fundamentals in the economy.”

Manufacturing was the only private-sector industry to show significant job declines in August, falling by 80 positions. Professional and business services added 40 jobs, but remains 160 employees below a year earlier.

In neighboring Josephine County, the August seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 12.1 percent, down marginally from 12.8 percent a year ago.

-- Greg Stiles

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