Jackson County's employment figures appear to be going in the right direction, with job gains outpacing the number of people entering the workforce.January jobless figures released this week by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show seasonally adjusted unemployment dropped to 5.4 percent in January from 6.5 percent in December and 7.1 percent a year earlier. Over a 12-month period, both the county's labor force and number of jobs grew. Between January 2015 and this year, the labor force swelled by 3,265 people, and the number of employed workers grew by 4,688. The labor force was clocked at 99,019 in January, up slightly from the previous month, but up significantly from the 95,754 recorded in 2015.
"Job growth is definitely trending upward," said Guy Tauer, a regional economist with Oregon's Employment Department. "Our 3.5 percent job growth is matching the overall trend for the state. We're back to participating full speed in the recovery, although it's hard to say if the rest of the year will be as good."
The seasonal jobless rate is the lowest since March and April of 2006, when it was 5.5 percent.
The workforce, which was 102,678 in January 2009, slipped to 94,811 two years ago.
"It does bounce around," Tauer said. "What we're seeing now is indicative of a stronger economy as we continue to add population in the Rogue Valley. They're certainly not all retirees moving here. We have a pretty good mix of working-age people moving into the area."
A look at the average weekly hours worked in Jackson County for recent Januaries gives pause for thought, however.
Countywide, the average weekly hours worked fell to 32.8 hours from 33.9 in 2015 and 34.4 in 2014. Still, it's better than the 31.8 weekly hours recorded in January 2008, when economic collapse was in full force. For all months, Tauer said, the peak of work hours was 35.8 in June 2014.
The pending minimum wage increase to $9.75 July 1 may also come into play, he said, as employers adjust hours or staffing levels.
"It's hard to say how much inflation may come into play," Tauer said. "The labor market has been tightening, and I've heard anecdotally about employers having to raise wages to retain workers."