Jackson County unemployment ticks up in July

Jackson County jobless numbers released Tuesday weren't accompanied by a smiley face.

The seasonally adjusted 10.7 percent July unemployment rate was slightly higher than June's 10.5 percent, yet marginally better than a year ago when it hovered at 11.7 percent.

Like the smoke dangling above the Rogue Valley, double-digit employment has been hanging around way too long and there's nothing to suggest diminished numbers are just around the next bend.

"We're grinding slowly forward," said Tim Duy, a University of Oregon economist who tracks both state and regional activity. "The recovery hasn't really taken hold as aggressively as we would have liked. It's slowly getting better, but not enough to cause widespread improvement in the outlying markets."

Nationally, the unemployment rate edged up to 8.3 percent in July and Oregon's seasonally adjusted figure nosed up to 8.7 percent.

"The larger metro areas (in Oregon) are doing better," Duy said. "Generally, the smaller metro areas are lagging behind. Eugene is a distant second, followed by Bend and Medford, and Salem is struggling to recover."

Express Personnel owner Nikki Jones has monitored the ups and downs of the local economy for the past 20 years. She's seen a decided shift from businesses carrying employees through the lean times to hiring temporary help during peak demand period.

"In the past, that was the norm — bringing on people full-time, absorbing the cost of hanging onto those folks," said Jones, who earned a degree in economics at Southern Oregon University. "Unfortunately, the economy has been much weaker. Now, employers are more tentative about bringing people on because of fluctuating sales. It's not seasonality, it's contractual — uncertainty about contracts. Not knowing what's next makes them a little hesitant to bring people on permanently."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported there were 2,170 fewer jobs in Jackson County than in June when the seasonally adjusted rate was 10.5 percent. However, the government agency said Jackson County had a gain of 500 jobs over a year ago, when unemployment was 11.7 percent.

Josephine County saw its unemployment rate rise to 12 percent in July, up from 11.7 percent the previous month, but down from July 2011's 12.8 percent mark.

According to the American Staffing Association, this month's temporary hires are 6 percent higher than last August. Jones said demand for temporary employees provided by her company in Jackson and Josephine counties rose 21 percent during the first seven months of 2012 over the same period in 2011. In Jackson County, it's up 18 percent — partly fueled by the Walmart superstore relocation.

Jones has a list of about 500 workers, whom she sends to clients ranging from medical employers to wood products companies.

"Companies that can fill jobs on demand, depending on need and usage, have huge flexibility in their payroll. They can keep those people as long as they need, working full-time. We've had people at temporary jobs with us for two years, working full-time and moving from job to job; but they get their benefits from us."

While the long-term trend has not been good for temporary employees to move into permanent positions, Jones said 122 of her company's workers have caught on this year, up from 85 last year.

"For people who have a more entry-level production skill set there are still a lot of opportunity," she said. "But they have to put lot of effort into it to find the work."

Regional economies dependent on housing products and trades will have to wait longer than other areas to regain their economic stride, Duy said.

"The destruction of housing wealth during the housing bust slowed the pace of migration and slowed the spending power the migration brings with it," he said. "We need people to rebuild their wealth — reducing their debt — and that's still in its early phases."

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