Jackson County's unemployment rate continued its downward crawl in December, dropping to 11 percent from 11.3 percent a month earlier. And placed against December 2010's 12.9 percent jobless figure, the decline was almost brisk.

Jackson County's unemployment rate continued its downward crawl in December, dropping to 11 percent from 11.3 percent a month earlier. And placed against December 2010's 12.9 percent jobless figure, the decline was almost brisk.

"Over the past year, the number of unemployed in Jackson County is down 1,400 and total employment has increased by 940," said Guy Tauer, a regional economist with Oregon's Employment Department. "Certainly we are going in the right direction."

Figures compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics followed national and state trends. Nonetheless, Jackson County remained in double-digit jobless territory along with neighboring Josephine County, which has seen its seasonally adjusted jobless rate decline to 11.7 percent from 13.5 percent at the end of 2010.

Jackson County's jobless rate hasn't fallen below 10 percent since a 9.4 reading in October 2008. It rose to 10.1 percent that November and has remained in double-digits since then.

"If we keep trending in the direction we've been going, a 10 percent adjusted rate is within the realm of possibility," Tauer said. "I'm not going to go out on a limb for what the future holds, but if the trends continue, we certainly could see rates of 10 percent or less in 2012.

"That's if we don't have other major headwinds, such as the world entering a much slower phase of growth and Oregon doesn't slip into second dip in overall job growth trend. A lot of things will have to go right."

During December, total nonfarm employment was 76,300, a gain of 60 jobs since December 2010.

However, total payroll employment declined by 1,520 jobs from the previous month. But because there were nearly 2,000 fewer people in the labor force in December compared with November, the unemployment rate still declined.

Tauer said goods-producing sectors of construction and manufacturing combined for 280 fewer jobs in December. Wholesale and retail trade showed declining trends, with wholesale losing 40 jobs and retail trade shedding 290 jobs over the month. Professional and business services saw 140 jobs disappear, while health care and social assistance posted a second consecutive decline, with 180 fewer positions.

"The economy is not growing fast enough to cause employers to hire," Tauer said. "Across the U.S., the overall economy is growing slowly, but employers just don't have the demand that creates hiring. Labor costs are up and employers are squeezing productivity out of their existing work force. There just has not been incentive to ramp up faster than it has."

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