Jackson County jobless rate falls slightly to 9.5 percent

With the promise of wider medical insurance coverage just around the corner, Jackson County's health care organizations have steadily ramped up staffs for most of the decade.

Now, on the eve of implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the latest government figures preclude a hiring frenzy.

There was no spike as some may have envisioned in a county heavily invested in health care, which accounts for more than 1 in 9 local jobs, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics employment report.

As a result, the county's jobless rate only saw a slight decline in October, falling to a seasonally adjusted 9.5 percent, down from 9.6 percent in September and 10.6 a year ago.

"You're not going to see a huge change in any one month's numbers," said Guy Tauer, a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department. "Employment in the health care and social assistance field has been growing continuously the last decade and continued growing all through the recession. It's been pretty flat in 2013 because of the uncertainty of when parts of it were going to be implemented."

In October 2012 there were 13,010 people on health care-related payrolls in Jackson County, 20 more than last month.

"A lot of it depends on how the ACA is rolled out, pushing employer and individual mandates," Tauer said. "Once it's fully implemented, that's when we'll certainly see real job growth."

Since the new customers won't come until health care reform is up and running fully, the jobs have yet to materialize.

"What people were anticipating was utilization (of health care) was going to increase extensively and because of that they would need additional people," said Nikki Jones of Express Employment in Medford. "Utilization numbers haven't changed yet and people are still trying to figure it out. Until people have their insurance plans in place and begin using the insurance they haven't had, I don't think things are going to change that much. I think it will be that way up into next year."

There were 89,363 people on the job during October — fewer than in either September or the previous year — but the labor force declined by 3,725 people, the bureau estimated.

Nonfarm payrolls advanced 2.3 percent to 79,720 in October, tacking on 1,830 new employees since October 2012.

Retail hiring followed expected trends and picked up as stores geared-up for holiday shopping activity.

Total payroll employment rose by 990 jobs in October with retail accounting for 270 new positions. State government education related to Southern Oregon University and Rogue Community College beginning classes at the end of September added 460 positions, while local government education tacked on 750 jobs.

The end of tourism season saw leisure and hospitality employment shed 330 positions, with 260 of those spots coming from accommodations and food services.

Professional and business services saw an 80-person decline, while manufacturing companies lopped off 30 jobs.

In neighboring Josephine County, still locked into a double-digit jobless rate, the figures also were modestly improved as seasonally adjusted unemployment slipped to 10.6 percent from 10.9 percent.

Josephine County got some good news recently when MasterBrand Cabinets decided to add a second shift, which will put a minimum of 95 people back to work over the next two months.

The Grants Pass firm laid off two of three shifts in October 2008 when the housing bubble burst.

"That's real exciting for people in that area," Jones said.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, friend him on Facebook and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.

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