Out of work

It took a little longer, but Jackson County has joined its neighbors in the sagging job market.

"We're a bit mired in the funk that a lot of other surrounding counties have been in for a longer time than Jackson County," said Regional Economist Guy Tauer, who studies Jackson, Josephine, Coos and Curry counties for the Oregon Employment Department. "We held our heads above water still gaining jobs over the year when a lot of surrounding counties were not."

Although employers created 360 jobs in May, the latest month for which statistics are available, total employment over the last year fell by 310 jobs, the first yearly decline since August 2002. Jackson County's unemployment rate in May 2007 was 5 percent, compared to 6.7 percent in May 2008.

A poor real estate market, combined with higher gas prices and less disposable income, has left the economy shaky. Seasonal jobs helped bolster May's numbers, but a full recovery depends on the stabilitzation of oil prices, Tauer said.

"There've been some retail stores opening, but in general, employers have been in a wait-and-see mode, how gas prices will impact consumer spending," he said. "With gas at $4 a gallon, there may be a little hesitation to add on that second or third waitperson."

But it's not all doom and gloom.

The bright spot in Jackson County's economy lies in its large health care and social assistance sectors, which are more downturn-resistant, Tauer said. Those industries have helped balance out losses in construction, real estate and related industries.

Real estate agents, contractors and managers have flowed into Jackson County's Job Council in recent months, according to program manager Jill Wilson. This year, they are seeing 600 to 700 people each month, compared to 400 to 500 people per month a year ago.

Tips on hunting

Wilson's primary advice to those clients is not to treat a job loss as a forced vacation.

"The one thing that we tell people is if you're wanting to continue to work, start looking for work immediately," she said.

That includes applying for unemployment benefits right away and analyzing skills that could transfer to other industries. She's seen people transition from real estate to truck driving and mill work to teaching. Others decide to go into business for themselves, and they can qualify for unemployment while they develop a small business plan.

In addition to tips such as proofreading resumes, dressing professionally and squelching the urge to bash former employers during an interview, Wilson advises job seekers stay open to a wide variety of jobs.

"The philosophy has always been that employers like to hire people who are working," she said. "It doesn't matter where they're working."

That may mean a fast food job, although Wilson said they don't encourage people to take just anything unless their survival depends on it.

But job seekers should be prepared to search for the long haul, said Gail Gasso, the office manager at WorkSource Oregon Employment Department for Jackson and Josephine counties. She works with both the unemployed and those seeking a new career path.

"Don't quit that job and think that you're going to find one right after that," she said. "It's important to take that next step slowly and to become competitive for that new career change."

Peter Weston, the career development services director at Southern Oregon University, advises students to allow three to five months for their job hunt and work their network both before and after the job offer comes.

"In terms of a tight market, make sure you're connected with your professional network, faculty members, past employers...family and friends," he said. "Let people know 'Hey, I'm out there.'"

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

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