The slow return to business as usual following the Great Recession is underscored in the last government employment figures.

The slow return to business as usual following the Great Recession is underscored in the last government employment figures.

Jackson County's 8.7 percent jobless rate marked little change in May. But there were nearly 2,000 fewer people in the labor force than a year earlier, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released Monday.

"It's an ongoing challenge for many more rural communities to be able to maintain their workforce," said Tim Duy, an economics professor at the University of Oregon and the editor of the Oregon Economic Index. "Especially in light of the opportunities in other locations with better pay and different amenities."

Before the real estate market rolled over and sank into a four-year abyss, continual migration — primarily from California — of home buyers not only fueled housing prices, but also kept contractors and subcontractors at work. But from the middle of 2006 until the market bottomed out, there was little inbound movement and many of the trade workers departed the area or found other lines of work.

Jobless estimates compiled by the BLS rose slightly from the 8.6 percent figure in April and were markedly below the 9.5 percent mark of May 2013.

But if the labor force hadn't shrunk from 88,276 a year ago to 87,397, the May figure would've been higher. Over the past 12 months, employment was down by 410 jobs, or half a percent. According to the BLS, 740 private sector jobs evaporated during the past year, while government added 330 positions.

Retail took the biggest hit, with a decline of 670 positions. Business and professional services fell by 440 jobs, while financial activities shed 100 people. Construction is down 90 paychecks, transportation, warehousing and utilities took a 70-position hit, and information is down 50.

Hospitality grew by 290 positions, while manufacturing is 260 hires ahead of May 2013. Health care and social assistance showed gains of 110 jobs, as did "other services."

"It does look like the region has had a little bit of bounce, but some of it has slowed up," Duy said. "The challenge for Southern Oregon is regaining what has been adding punch, so to speak, for many years — steady in-migration.

"That appears to have slowed as a result of the recession and has not rebounded sufficiently to really generate the kinds of activity providing more positive dynamics we've seen in the past."

There's another aspect to consider as the workforce declines not just in Jackson County, but elsewhere, said Guy Tauer, a regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department: the impact of fewer people paying state income tax.

"The long-run concern for the state government is that as the population ages, it will have an impact on the next two, three or four (two-year) budget cycles," Tauer said. "More baby boomers are retiring. They were waiting out the recession and as home prices are up and stock market prices are up, they're ready to move. At the same time, there are fewer younger people entering the labor force."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, friend him on Facebook and read his blog at Edge.