For the first time in four-and-a-half years, Jackson County's seasonally adjusted jobless rate dipped below double digits in April.
The April unemployment rate was 9.6 percent, according to figures compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and released Monday morning — down from 11 percent in April 2012.
Technically, April was the second month in which unemployment fell below double digits, after the Bureau of Labor Statistics revised the March figure down to 9.9 percent from 10 percent.
Josephine County remained in double digits, however, at 11.1 percent in April, down from 12 percent a year earlier.
While the unemployment figure fell, so did the number of people in the workforce, said Guy Tauer, a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department.
The civilian labor force declined by 3,172 people between April 2012 and last month, when the bureau listed the workforce as 96,482. While there were nearly 1,800 fewer unemployed people in April 2013 compared with a year ago, the number of employed has fallen by close to 1,400 during the period, too.
"We've seen a decrease across the board in labor numbers," Tauer said. "We're seeing lower population growth, so there are fewer people in the market for whatever reason statewide. That has shown up in the data through the Great Recession and continued through the recovery."
As the overall population ages, he said, the speculation is that some of the unemployed simply moved into retirement age and others who were in the workforce have retired from their jobs.
Separately, the University of Oregon Regional Economic Indexes were released Monday.
While the statewide economy is looking up, or at least matching its recent historical norms, it hasn't done so in the Rogue Valley, said Tim Duy, the Oregon Economic Index author.
"Medford is still lagging and trending behind its historical average growth rate," he said.
Duy said the declining workforce has hit multiple metropolitan areas in Oregon.
"Medford is not alone in that trend," he said. "It looks like some of those in-migration patterns that slowed during the recession and haven't reappeared. Previously there was some compensation for people leaving the workforce by an influx of new residents. One story we used to tell about people moving to Oregon is that even though wages were comparatively less than other places, the equity they had in their previous homes helped them compensate for the lower wages. Obviously, the past recession has had a negative impact on that."
While construction, manufacturing, health care and seasonal leisure and hospitality hiring have risen, other sectors have lagged, including transportation and government.
"The overall economy is still tough in some occupations, fields and industries," Tauer said. "There remains some discouraged workers (no longer seeking jobs) and they've possibly moved out of the area.
Tauer said construction related to the housing market is contributing to job growth and the trend will continue through 2013.
"Basically we went from a period of overbuilding to a couple of years of underbuilding," Tauer said. "Now we're into a period of catching up that may last for a couple of years. People who were on the sidelines because their homes were under water (financially) may choose to sell them now and relocate. That in-migration brings construction back off their low point."
He said leisure and hospitality are edging up nicely, as they usually do this time of year.
"Hopefully, $4 gas prices don't scare too many people away," Tauer said. "Hopefully fuel prices will moderate and we will have a good season going forward."