June's jobless rate for Jackson County still above 12%

Jackson County's employment picture was virtually unchanged last month, but analysts say hope continues to glimmer on the horizon.

The Oregon Employment Department Monday reported the state's sixth-largest county had double-digit unemployment in June for the 19th straight month.

June's 12.1 percent seasonally adjusted jobless rate was similar to May's 12.2 percent figure and slightly better than the 13.0 percent mark of June 2009.

"On the other hand, it's not getting worse," said Ainoura Oussenbec, an Employment Department work force analyst.

Seasonal gains in construction as well as leisure and hospitality arenas led to a gain of 490 private-sector jobs between May and June. That was partly offset by the end of Census jobs that contributed to a loss of 250 government jobs during the month.

Oussenbec said leisure and hospitality hiring has been subdued in recent months, but posting a stronger showing as early-summer tourism kicked in.

"I looked at the past several years and we're relatively close to pre-recession levels," Oussenbec said.

The 9,050 people working in the sector are similar to the 9,190 employed in June 2003 but well off the 10,440 high-water mark of 2007.

"Obviously, one number for one month doesn't tell us much, but there seems to be more optimism in this sector," she said. "I heard anecdotally that bookings are solid, so the improvement doesn't surprise me now. When bookings are up, employers feel more comfortable in hiring more people — 290 new jobs for one month is healthy."

Tourism-related businesses say they are seeing strong demand so far this summer.

"We are ahead of our budget in terms of sales and revenue," said Bob Hackett, Oregon Shakespeare Festival's marketing manager and a member of the Southern Oregon Visitors Association marketing committee. "Part of it is that local attendance is up, but clearly it's being driven by out-of-town guests as well. It's only July and we are cautious, but think we can have another record year in terms of ticket sales."

Tourism is definitely outpacing other sectors. Construction, manufacturing, trade, transportation, utilities and professional services were all well off where they were a year ago.

One local economist projected double-digit unemployment will remain the norm well into the first quarter of 2011.

But Alec Miller, a economist with REMI-Northwest in Medford, said stirrings at the national level may signal better things by this time next year.

"Google, Intel, Apple, even Microsoft are doing big hiring right now," Miller said. "Typically, the big corporate investments take place several months to a year before confidence changes in small- and medium-size business. The small investor just got burned really badly and is still nervous, but as they see momentum pick up over the next nine months we will start to see employment pick up."

As tech firms in the Bay Area prosper, he said, it will accommodate business and retiree migration.

"That stopped when the housing bubble crashed," Miller said. "But when the Bay Area (tech workers) see their portfolio improve, they'll start moving again; that's what drove the economy here for the past decade. In late March we'll be back down to 7 or 8 percent unemployment and then looking at more rapid expansion after that. These things take a lot longer than we wish."

Josephine County saw a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 13.9 percent in June, down from 14.4 percent in May and 14.4 in June 2009.

Southern Oregon has seen a slower recovery than the rest of the state, which reported a 10.5 percent jobless rate, or the nation, which has a rate of 9.5 percent.

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

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