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County jobless rate shows improvement

Jackson County's September unemployment rate dipped by a full percentage point from August and was below the September 2001 mark as well.

The 5.3 percent jobless rate announced by the Oregon Employment Department was the lowest since May of 2001, when it was also 5.3 percent. The employment picture has steadily brightened for the third straight month after peaking at 7.4 percent in June. The August figure was 6.3 percent.

Jackson County's jobless rate was easily below the state's seasonally adjusted 6.8 percent unemployment rate in September and the national seasonally adjusted rate of 5.6 percent. Josephine County, where unemployment has historically averaged above 7 percent since 1980, saw a drop to 6.7 percent, down from 7.6 percent in August and 8.2 percent a year earlier.

Members of the business community are breathing a little more easily and starting to hire people back that were let go in the layoffs all over the country, said Brad Hicks, chairman and chief executive officer of The Chamber of Medford/Jackson County. On a local level, we were never impacted as much as the rest of the country and I think that's very encouraging.

About 4,500 Oregonians will see the last of their extended unemployment benefit checks this week.

State Employment Department work force analyst Ainoura Oussenbec said no figures are immediately available on Jackson County, but that inquiries to the local office concerning extended benefits has declined in recent months.

Guy Tauer, a regional economist for the employment department, cited seasonal increases in retail and education hiring for a gain of nearly 1,600 non-farm jobs in September. But he added that there were still 100 fewer jobs in the county than in the corresponding period in 2001.

Low interest rates along with population growth (have) boosted construction jobs, Tauer said.

An additional 40 jobs boosted construction employment to 200 more people than a year earlier. Manufacturing rose by 50 positions and food production saw a gain of 40, while printing and publishing were up 20. Lumber and wood products declined 30 jobs.

Usually, it's not any one thing that improves employment numbers, said economist Joe Cortright of Impresa Consulting. It's interesting that the downturn along the West Coast tends to be concentrated in larger metropolitan areas. Seattle, Denver and San Francisco have suffered most in the last year. Medford and Eugene have done better than Portland. For whatever reason, smaller areas are more insulated than larger areas.

He suggests some leftover activity from the summer firefighting efforts could have contributed to the unemployment decline.

Sometimes, seasonally adjusted numbers can go down if something happens out of the ordinary, Cortright said. In some places if the growing season goes longer, then there is work through September and where you would've expected a big jump in unemployment, there isn't. Firefighting would cause a temporary bump in employment and pump money into the economy.

The lowest annualized unemployment rate in Jackson County since 1980 was in 2000, when it measured 5.3 percent for the whole year.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

Jobless rates

Jackson County

September 2001, 5.5 percent; August 2002, 6.3 percent; September 2002, 5.3 percent.

Josephine County

September 2001, 8.2 percent; August 2002, 7.6 percent; September 2002, 6.7 percent.

Oregon*

September 2001, 6.9 percent; August 2002, 7.0 percent; September 2002, 6.8 percent.

Nation*

September 2001, 5.0 percent; August 2002, 5.7 percent; September 2002, 5.6 percent.

* seasonally adjusted

'Oregon Employment Department