County's jobless rate hits 12.8%

If you're looking for a job, you have lots of company. More than 14,000 people in Jackson County were out of work in February, and unemployment rates in Southern Oregon were about double what they were just a year ago.

Jackson County's seasonally adjusted jobless rate rose to 12.8 percent, up from 11.8 percent in January and more than twice the 6.1 percent rate of February 2008. Jobs in construction, manufacturing and retail trade registered the largest percentage decline over the 12 months since February 2008.

"Construction and manufacturing continue to be hammered," said Guy Tauer, a regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department. "There's soft demand for all durable goods."

In Josephine County, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 14.8 percent, compared to 13 percent in January and 7.7 percent in February 2008. Seasonally adjusted figures take into account seasonal fluctuations in employment to make month-to-month figures more meaningful.

Tauer said unemployment tends to be higher in January, February and March, when weather limits construction and other outdoor work.

In Jackson County, there were 840 fewer manufacturing jobs, a decline of 11.3 percent over the past 12 months, and 820 fewer construction jobs, down 17.6 percent from a year ago. Job losses in retail trade since February 2008 totaled 780, a decline of 5.9 percent.

Unemployment statewide stood at 10.8 percent in February, the fifth highest among the states, Tauer said. Five of the 10 counties with the highest unemployment rates are in Southern Oregon or just across the Cascades in the high desert country.

Crook County, east of Bend, had the state's highest unemployment rate (16.1 percent), and Douglas County (15.5 percent) the second worst. Klamath County's jobless rate in February was 13.1 percent seasonally adjusted, up from 12.1 percent in January and 7.7 percent a year ago.

Gilliam County, east of Hood River, had the lowest unemployment rate (7.5 percent), followed closely by Benton County (7.6 percent).

Tauer said economists develop unemployment figures from employers' payroll taxes, statistical models and data collected from random employer surveys.

He said Southern Oregon escaped relatively unscathed during the recession of 2000-01, benefiting from California's strong economy during that time. He said the last time jobless rates rose to anything like current levels was during the big recession of the early 1980s, when unemployment peaked at around 17 percent in February 1982.

"You have to go back to 1983 to find rates similar to this month," he said.

"This (recession) has a much more 1980s feel," he said. "It's much broader."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail

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