County's unemployment rate hits 13.9%

By Greg Stiles

For the Tidings

Jackson County's seasonally adjusted jobless rate jumped to 13.9 percent in March, more than double the 6.7 percent figure a year earlier.

The March reading easily tops the statewide rate of 12.1 percent announced last week, although Jackson County remains in better shape than Josephine County, where the unemployment rate was 15.8 percent in March.

Among Oregon's six top population centers, only Bend — and surrounding Deschutes County — with a 14.7 percent unemployment rate fared worse than Jackson County.

Unemployment has picked up at a rate unseen for nearly two decades, and those who study trends don't see a respite coming.

"We just don't know when this cycle will end," said Guy Tauer, a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department. "In a typical year, I would say March would be a peak month because of seasonal unemployment trends. But all bets are off because we just don't know how and when this recession will wind down or come to a close."

The Oregon Employment Department said payroll employment in Jackson County declined by 3,160 jobs, or 3.9 percent, during the past 12 months.

The county's estimated payroll fell by 90 positions in March as the jobless rate climbed from 12.6 percent in February.

When the recessionary forces first started gathering, Tauer said it was contained within sectors, dependent on real estate sales. That's no longer the case.

"It's across all sectors now, not just one or two," Tauer said. "A couple of years ago housing, and then construction. Now it's across the gamut."

Tauer pointed to the Conference Board Leading Indicator Index for March, released Monday, as evidence that a turnaround won't come soon. Building permits, stock prices and the index of supplier deliveries weighed heavily on the down side.

"We're into the cycle 14 or 15 months and the leading indicators are showing a three-tenths of a percent decline," Tauer said. "So if you're looking for signs that the recession is ending, you didn't see those numbers today. I see continued softness at least three to six months nationally."

Construction employment was essentially unchanged in March, but trailed in 2008 by 710 jobs. Manufacturing remained in the doldrums, shedding 80 more jobs last month. The sector has seen a decline of 860 jobs in a 12-month period.

Retail trade employment also has suffered, with 140 jobs disappearing in March. During the previous 12 months, 790 retail trade jobs dissolved. Wholesale trade also fell over the year, down by 140 jobs.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

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