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Jackson County jobless rate declines

Retail trade and service industry account for most of the increase in total nonfarm employment

Jackson County's employment picture improved in March as unemployment figures edged down to 8.5 percent.

The Employment Department reported 9.5 percent of the work force was unemployed in February. But compared to last year, nearly 2 percent more of the work force has been idled.

Total nonfarm employment in Jackson County rose to 72,800 in March, with an upturn in hiring for retail trade and service sector jobs accounting for most of the month's gain of 360 jobs.

For a 12-month period, payroll employment is down by nearly 1,000 jobs in the Medford Statistical Area, representing a 1.3 percent decline.

The state's annual average unemployment rate was often at least — percent above the national average for many years prior to the late 1980s and remained close to the national average from 1987 to 1997. In the past nine months, Oregon's rate has been among the highest in the nation.

Employment Department economists Art Ayre and Guy Tauer say the influx of labor into Jackson and Josephine counties creates what is known as "frictional unemployment," because of the time it takes to find a job.

The state's reliance on trade with Asia, which is having its own cyclical economic woes, has contributed to a slowing in lumber, primary metals and high technology areas.

A third factor is structural unemployment, when industries such as wood products and fishing are greatly reduced by legislative and regulatory action. High-priced wholesale electricity, which led to the closing of aluminum plants in the past two years, is a recent example.

Manufacturers in Jackson County are continuing to reduce their work forces. Lumber and wood products employment decreased by 70 jobs in the past month, and is now down by 100 over the past year. Other durable goods employment, including transportation equipment, electronic and other electronic equipment, machinery and metals manufacturing, fell by 70 jobs in March and is down by 540 over the past year. Food products employment fell by 10 and printing and publishing added 20 jobs over the month. However, 80 printing and publishing jobs have gone away in the past year.

Non-manufacturing employment rose by 480 jobs in March, with a rebound in employment in restaurants, retail trade, business services, health and other services. Construction employment declined by 80 over the month, and has now decreased by 170 jobs during the past year.

Employment in transportation, including trucking and warehousing, took a surprising dip in March, shedding 70 jobs. Auto dealer and service station employment was unchanged over the month, but has risen by 110 during the past year. The catch-all category of "other retail" gained 80 jobs for the month, but is still off by nearly 600 for the year. Health and social services continue to add jobs during this downturn, and each added a few jobs for the month.

Over the past year, health services employment is up by 270, and social services payrolls grew by 370. Local education employment increased by 30 for the month, but is down by 90 for the year.

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