Construction demand helps improve jobless rate

There were 460 more construction workers employed in Jackson County during August than a year ago.

It's possible that the number reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics might have been even larger had there been more skilled construction workers. Between July and August, just 30 construction jobs were added, but the help is still wanted.

"We are seriously in deficit for skilled workers, and anybody with the skills can find work," said Brad Bennington, executive officer for the Southern Oregon Builders Association. "Whether it's commercial, residential or agriculture, everybody is struggling to find skilled workers."

Last month, BLS reported 96,184 people were employed out of a labor force of 103,107 in the county. The resulting 6.7 percent seasonally adjusted jobless rate is three ticks down from the 7.0 percent rate in August 2015.

Overall county employment grew by 660 jobs last month, with construction and leisure and hospitality at their summer peaks. Retail trade, which figures to stay on a roll for another three or four months, added 480 positions.

Guy Tauer, a regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department, said the county's large retail trade industry begins ramping up for the busy holiday season much sooner than many other areas. But while there was a big month-over-month bump in retail, over the past 12 months just 170 positions have been added to local payrolls.

Construction, which cycles hot and cold, is strong. In addition to the general lack of skilled labor, another factor is in play and may mask total construction employment, Bennington said.

"What we don't know is how much marijuana cultivation is taking out of the labor force," Bennington said. "It's hard to track because a lot of the work they do doesn't require having permits. A lot of the pay is in cash, so it doesn't show up in the normal reports. But I can tell our industry is definitely feeling it, because we're really struggling to find labor for the work we have."

Business and professional services added 90 jobs over the month, as did health care and social assistance.

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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