Double-digit unemployment, the status quo for more than four years in Jackson and Josephine counties, showed little change in February.

Double-digit unemployment, the status quo for more than four years in Jackson and Josephine counties, showed little change in February.

Jobless figures reported by the Oregon Employment Department showed a slight seasonally adjusted improvement to 10.8 percent in Jackson County, while Josephine County remained at 11.6 percent.

Jackson County, also known as the Medford Statistical Area, was pegged at 10.9 percent unemployment in January, but the February reading was a full percentage point down from the February 2011 reading of 11.8 percent. Josephine County's jobless rate was 13.1 percent in February 2011.

Oregon's 8.8 percent unemployment figure is influenced by the Portland metropolitan area's 8.1 percent rate.

"As you go down I-5, the closer to California you get, the higher the rates are," said Guy Tauer, a regional economist with the Employment Department. "Of course, there are pockets that differ, but certainly as you reach Douglas, Josephine and Jackson counties the rates are higher than in Corvallis and Portland."

Medford plunged into the double-digit jobless abyss in November 2008, while Josephine County hit 10.1 percent in September of that year.

Tauer notes that during the halcyon days of 2006 and 2007, the local jobless rates were about two-thirds of a percent higher than the Portland metro area. However, during the depths of recession — 2008-2009 — the gap widened to about 2 percent. In the past half year that difference has accelerated, reflecting much faster job growth where the Columbia and Willamette rivers meet.

"The unemployment rate has come down much faster in the Portland area," Tauer said.

Over the past year, nonfarm employment has decreased by 550 positions in Jackson County, although school and government employment picked up some of the losses reported in retail.

In addition, the workforce has fallen below 101,000 in recent months.

"We don't know if that's from discouraged workers dropping out of the system," Tauer said. "Or if it is baby boomers aging and retiring."

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