Full employment still may be a distant point beyond the horizon, but at least there's a breeze in its sails.

Full employment still may be a distant point beyond the horizon, but at least there's a breeze in its sails.

Jackson County's jobless rate edged down for the eighth consecutive month in April as the Oregon Employment Department reported an 11.4 seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, the lowest since December 2008's 10.8 percent rate. April's reduction followed an 11.7 percent reading in March and showed substantial improvement from the 12.6 percent jobless mark in April 2010.

"We're trending in the right direction," said Guy Tauer, a regional economist with the Employment Department.

Health care and social assistance sectors have boosted employment over the past 12 months, although there was little gain from March to April.

Retail trade, spurred by the opening of Bed Bath & Beyond in the Rogue Valley Mall, contributed to a 140-person employment gain. Leisure and hospitality expanded by 17 jobs during the month, while accommodation and food services gained 60 positions.

"Construction is going to be the lagging sector," Tauer said. "While things are a bit better on the commercial side, we're just not seeing any improvement in terms of permit data."

The first three months of the year showed no gain from a weak first quarter in 2010, he said.

Overall, the county's payrolls have increased by 260 jobs, Tauer said, despite declines among government and goods-producing sectors of construction and manufacturing.

He said federal government employment will be down compared with 2010 through much of the year because of the end of census hiring.

Heading into the summer travel season, employment could get a boost if gas prices continue to decline.

"Any slight reduction of gas prices will get people on the road," Tauer said. "At $3.50 (a gallon), gas will look cheap after being at $4 for four months."

In Josephine County, the seasonally adjusted jobless rate dipped to 12.3 percent in April from 12.6 percent in March. It was 14.2 percent in April 2010.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email business@mailtribune.com.