Jackson County employment: Good news, bad news

The most recent employment figures for Jackson County tell a good news-bad news story for the region.

The good news is that the unemployment rate for Jackson County fell in December by a full percentage point from the previous month. The bad news is that the jobless rate remained virtually unchanged from the same point a year ago.

There could be good news around the corner, however, because Jackson County payroll employment showed an increase of 280 jobs from the end of 2009. That helped push the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate down to an estimated 12.5 percent from 13.5 percent in November, according to the Oregon Employment Department. The December 2009 rate was 12.6 percent.

"Things look much better this year than last, even though unemployment is still high," said Alec Miller, an economist with REMI Northwest in Medford. "Business investment is up and industrial hiring is up nationally. We don't have the basic industries that respond to the front-line uptick. But tourism is seeing an uptick, airline tickets are selling faster and airlines are more profitable than last year."

Even more important, Miller said, is that the Bay Area's real estate market is recovering and the dot.coms and tech companies populating that region are profitable.

"Real estate values in the Bay Area are what drive immigration to this area," Miller said. "You are seeing increased hiring and increased investment down there, and that tends to spill over up here."

The full percentage-point drop in unemployment, however, is not as much good news as it would appear. The raw numbers reported by the Employment Department indicated there were actually 102 fewer people employed in December than November and just over 300 fewer people looking for work. That left the raw unemployment rate in a statistical dead heat with the previous month. But the state has reported seasonally adjusted numbers as its official rates in recent years, and regional economist Guy Tauer says there are many factors that go into that number beyond the basic number of people in the work force and the number of jobs.

"It's based on a ratio of how many unemployed people there are within the entire labor force," Tauer said. "But a lot of things bounce around, giving it volatility from month to month. College students who were working on campus during school, for example, wouldn't be counted in December because they were out of school."

In Jackson County last month, retail trade gained 260 jobs as the holiday hiring season hit its yearly peak, while health care and social assistance continued steady improvement, growing by 40 jobs. Manufacturing picked up 80 jobs.

Over the previous 12 months, retail trade was up 320 slots, while professional and business services were 150 jobs to the good, with health care and social assistance 140 employees ahead.

On the flip side, construction remained in its protracted malaise — shedding 110 more jobs — and trailed its year-end 2009 level by 320 positions. Leisure and hospitality is off by 90 jobs and financial activities lost 60 positions.

In Josephine County, the seasonally adjusted jobless rate was 13.9 percent in December — the same as it was a year earlier — and down from 14.6 percent in November.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

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