Jackson County followed the state — rather than the national — employment trend in July, and it wasn't good for job-seekers.
Figures compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed a jobless rate of 9.8 percent, up from 9.5 percent in June and May. Although the number is better than the 10.9 percent rate of July 2012, it appears the rate's gradual improvement since the Great Recession — when unemployment reached 13.1 percent in April and May 2009 — could be at an end.
While nationwide joblessness eased to 7.4 percent in July from 7.6 percent in June, according the federal figures, Oregon's rate rose to 8 percent from 7.8 percent the previous month.
Total payroll employment in Jackson County fell by 1,570 jobs between June and July, while the civilian labor force declined to 96,919 from 98,652 a year earlier.
"There's no one factor that explains why we have the declines," said Ainoura Oussenbec of the Oregon Employment Department. "This is an issue that may continue."
Nikki Jones, who operates Express Employment Professionals in Medford, said she's somewhat puzzled by the employment figures.
"Our numbers are going up, like we see them every summer," Jones said. "Our clients listen to everything and they are still tentative. There is so much uncertainty on health care reform. I don't think a lot of employers have taken a stance yet as to whether they will keep their (employee) numbers lower to stay below a threshold, or do whatever they have to do to operate their business. So far, I haven't seen any change in the businesses we're working with."
One factor Jones has noticed is that jobs restored during good times don't necessarily translate into re-employment for those who lost them in the bad times.
"When companies make the decision to start hiring back people, the job requirements may have changed and the people who were working for them may no longer be qualified," Jones said. "A medical assistant that used to deal with charts, using pen and paper, may not have the skills. With the change to electronic medical records, those same people may have to use technology they didn't use before. A lot of them are carrying iPads or something similar and that's changed the nature of their work."
The underlying principle is that skills good enough to get by a few years ago may no longer sufficient.
"A variety of industries are seeing the same things happen," Jones said. "If you change the way you're doing business going forward, you're doing more with less and demand more from the people with the skills to do that job. That's created a bigger skills gap than before."
Accommodation and food services reported the biggest gain during July, picking up 310 jobs over the month — and 640 in the past year — while leisure and hospitality added 290 during the month and 670 for the year.
Those numbers don't reflect jobs that may have been lost when lightning-caused forest fires late in the month created tourism-related layoffs.
Construction saw 20 jobs added during the month and a paltry year-over-year gain of 70. Manufacturing continued its growth, adding 50 jobs over the month and 350 over the year. Retail trade added 290 positions during the month and is up 360 for the year.
Professional and business services added 270 for the month, but is up only by 210 over the year.
Health care and social assistance faltered by 70 jobs, but remains 530 ahead of mid-2012, while transportation, warehousing and utilities dropped 50 positions.
In Josephine County, July's jobless rate was 11.3 percent, following a June reading of 11.2 percent. Josephine County had 12 percent unemployment a year earlier.
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness.