Jackson County unemployment up to 8.7 percent

Unemployment in Jackson County rose to 8.7 percent in November, the highest seen since the deep recession of the early 1980s, the Oregon Employment Department announced Monday.

That figure translates to 9,397 people unemployed out of a workforce of 107,444, the department said.

Statewide, the unemployment rate is 8.1 percent.

In nonfarm work, Jackson County lost 1,670 jobs compared to November 2007, a decline of 1.9 percent. Construction, manufacturing, professional and business services and leisure and hospitality accounted for most of the losses, said Guy Tauer, the State Employment Division's regional economist.

Retail, which usually peaks during the holidays, gained 670 jobs in November but was down by 110 jobs over last year.

"We've had some seasonal ramp-up, but not to the level we expected," Tauer said. "Retailers have been skittish about hiring for the holidays."

The unemployment rate jumped 1.3 percent from October and was 3.5 percent higher than November 2007.

The present 8.7 percent unemployment was surpassed in the first four years of the 1980s. During that recession, unemployment in Jackson County peaked in 1981 and 1982 at 13.4 percent, Tauer said.

In November, construction lost 180 jobs, with losses of 530 for the past year. Among the causes are the freeze in the housing market and tight credit, Tauer said.

Manufacturing here lost 110 jobs in November for a total of 430 over the past year. The professional and business sector lost 100 jobs in November.

"People aren't buying as many cars, refrigerators and countertops. There's less demand for construction and its by-products. It's the general softening of the economy," said Tauer.

Leisure and hospitality, which normally declines this time of year, lost 270 jobs. The Oregon Tourism Commission noted that year-to-date lodging through October in Southern Oregon is down 6.5 percent from last year. This sector lost 70 jobs here in the past year.

"They've added a lot of jobs in recent years and they're holding up fairly well, especially with gas prices down now," he said.

Health care and social assistance was "the silver lining in the gray economic clouds," up 30 jobs in November and up 300 in the past year.

Government jobs also increased in the county — 70 in federal, 30 in state education and 40 in local education, the report said.

Of the six metropolitan statistical areas in the state, this region was second from the bottom, with Bend having the highest unemployment at 9.9 percent. Best was the Corvallis area, at 5.6 percent.

Jackson County did better than surrounding counties. Its 8.7 percent unemployment compares with 10.9 percent in Josephine County, 11.5 percent in Douglas County and 10.5 percent in Klamath County.

"Jackson County is more diverse," Tauer said. "The neighboring counties have more eggs in the wood products basket. Jackson County has more health care and assisted-living jobs and that's more recession-proof."

November saw a "huge jump" in the number of people here applying for unemployment benefits, he said. The number is up by 4,000 over November last year.

Across the State

Oregon's unemployment rate has risen sharply during the past two months to 8.1 percent. But that number would look pretty good in some of the state's rural counties.

The unemployment rate in November hit 12.4 percent in Crook and Grant counties, according to numbers released the Oregon Employment Department this week.

Double-digit rates are not shocking in Grant County, located in Eastern Oregon. The high numbers, however, usually occur in February and March as seasonal logging and construction laborers leave work, said Jessica Nelson, an Employment Department economist. The last time the county's jobless rate reached 12.4 percent in November was 10 years ago.

"So it could be a sign of a pretty high unemployment rate to come in the winter," Nelson told The Oregonian newspaper.

The high unemployment rate in Crook County reflects the housing-industry bust in Central Oregon. The county's jobless rate in November 2007 was only 6.3 percent.

In Deschutes County, the most populous county in Central Oregon, November's unemployment hit 9.9 percent, double the rate of the same month a year ago and its highest November figure since at least 1990.

"What we're seeing in Deschutes County is that loss of leisure and hospitality jobs from the summer months," said Jan Swander, WorkSource Oregon's Bend-based analyst for central and south-central Oregon. She added that the foodservice sector is also hurting.

The news is better in the Portland metro area, but not pleasant. Its unemployment rate hit 7.5 percent in November. That's better than the state average but still the highest since the tech-led recession of 2001-2003. The metro area's seasonally adjusted rate increased from 6.8 percent in October. The area has shed 15,400 jobs since March.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Share This Story