Jackson County showed an increase in the number of people working in May, but a surge of would-be workers caused the county's jobless rate to top 14 percent, setting a record.

Jackson County showed an increase in the number of people working in May, but a surge of would-be workers caused the county's jobless rate to top 14 percent, setting a record.

According to figures released Monday by the Oregon Employment Department, Jackson County payroll employment rose by 530 positions from April to May, but the county's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate hit 14.2 percent, up from 13.8 percent in April.

The Employment Department figures show a loss of 3,390 jobs from May 2008, a 4.1 percent decline. That pushed unemployment to nearly double the 7.3 percent rate of a year ago.

The county rate has remained higher this spring than the statewide unemployment rate, which at 12.4 percent in May was the second highest in the nation. The May mark also was the county's highest unemployment rate since the state began tracking such figures.

Josephine County's May rate was 14.9 percent, a slight improvement over its 15.2 percent jobless rate for April.

The Employment Department gauged the county workforce — the number of people employed and looking for work — at 104,682, compared with 101,056 a year ago.

"People who weren't in the labor force a year ago are back in," said Regional Economist Guy Tauer. "Maybe it's because of declining stock wealth, or declining home values. It might be a person who was the only member of the family working and the family is having a hard time making it. Now the spouse is starting to looking for work.

"There are just more people competing for a smaller number of jobs because of the financial conditions."

There were some month-over-month bright spots, with gains in construction, professional and business services, leisure and hospitality as well as local government sectors.

Construction employment rose by 90 positions, Tauer said, as commercial and public works construction projects helped to offset the sagging residential building sector. Professional and business services gained 70 jobs and now employ 40 more people than a year ago. Accommodations and food services added 280 jobs in May in preparation for summer tourism season. Local government employment climbed by 180, with public schools accounting for 80 positions. Manufacturing, however, declined by 30 jobs.

Tauer said there are jobs available, with 130 positions posted at the local employment office, but it's not enough to absorb those wanting work.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.