Jackson County has more residents, more folks employed, more people seeking work, and yet plenty of jobs remain unfilled.
The December employment figures compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics underscored the county's continued post-recession climb. December's 4.6 percent seasonally adjusted jobless rate was down from 5.3 percent in December 2016, which had matched 2000 for the lowest rate in the past 18 years.
The civilian labor force grew by 3,440, or 3.4 percent, to 105,583 from 102,143 over a 12-month period. There were 101,225 people working locally, 3,897, or 4 percent, more than at the end of 2016. During 2017, Jackson County nonfarm employment grew by 2,110 jobs, 2.5 percent, with private sector employment growing 3.6 percent.
Oregon Employment Department Regional Economist Guy Tauer characterized the job gains as broad-based stretching into many sectors.
"The good news is that we've had great job growth," Tauer said. "At the same time, it's getting harder to fill the jobs that are being created; that's our challenge."
The Employment Department's fall job vacancy survey for Jackson and Josephine counties showed 3,940 unfilled positions last fall, down from 5,075 a year earlier, but higher than the 2,975 in 2015.
Every opening has its own circumstances, Tauer said. Companies have to weigh the market forces both for establishing sales costs and wages. The X-factor here, as in many cities, is housing.
"People doing their research look at the cost of living here and don't think it's going to be affordable for them," said Nikki Jones of Express Employment in Medford.
There is a resulting revolving door among skilled workers, she suggested, who leave the Rogue Valley after a short of time.
"They know they don't want to purchase the day they step into the valley," Jones said. "Sometimes it's a trailing spouse who can't find the right employment. One came here with a position, and the other can't find what they're looking for, and it doesn't make sense for them to stay."
In other cases, newcomers stay with friends or family members but aren't able to remain because they can't find a place to move.
"We're seeing that at all levels," she said.
"Housing availability is certainly a challenge," Tauer said.
Tauer related the case of a veteran chemical engineer with "a great job and great income," yet was stuck behind 40 others on a waiting list for an apartment.
Most companies have to adjust the lower end of their pay scale to retain workers.
"But they may not have been able to raise wages to attract more skilled workers," Jones said.
She said the majority of the manufacturers in Jackson and Josephine counties she works with have raised wages during the past four months.
"We still have a lot of jobs to be filled," she said. "It just takes a lot more time, energy and effort to get people in the door in order to get them placed."
During December, retail payrolls swelled by 350 jobs at the apex of the holiday season. Transportation, warehousing and utilities gained 90 jobs, professional and business services picked up 60, health care and social assistance added 40, and accommodation and food services grew by 40.
Construction fell by 120 for the month, manufacturing by 90, and mining and logging lost 30 paychecks.
— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.