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Southern Oregon jobless rates trend down

Jackson County's payroll dropped by 70 jobs in December, yet the seasonally adjusted jobless rate ticked down marginally, to 9.1 percent from 9.3 percent the month before.

Figures compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed nonfarm payroll employment fell to 79,900 last month from 79,970 in November.

An aging population, discouraged workers and young people staying in school longer all contributed, said Guy Tauer, an economist with the Oregon Employment Department.

"We're seeing a combination of all those factors," Tauer said. "We're seeing lower participation rates across the state as well. The labor force includes people who are not institutionalized in jails or facilities that are part of the population 16 and older looking for work or who are employed. That number continued to edge down through the recovery; it's an interesting phenomenon."

The good news would be in the year-over-year numbers.

In December 2012, the revised jobless rate for Jackson County was 10.4 percent. Figures released Monday show an additional 2,120 people were on payrolls last month.

Tauer said the usual leisure and hospitality hires seen in this region during winter ski season have not happened because the Cascades and Siskiyous — Mount Ashland in particular — have little or no snow.

"Until the snow flies," Tauer said, "this is going to be an anominal year."

Retail is at its height during the late fall as Christmas shopping throttles up. Post-holiday layoffs won't show up until the January numbers are reported.

But Nikki Jones of Express Employment already has seen a surge in applications as people look for their next job.

"We've had more than 400 applications online since the first of the year," Jones said. "There is definitely a lot of job-seeker activity."

During the first three weeks of January, Jones said, about 25 percent of the applicants were interviewed, 88 people were hired (but not necessarily given their first assignment), and 69 people were put to work by the company for the first time.

She said 18 people have been hired to permanent roles by clients or moved on since the first of the year.

"The hardest thing right now is finding quality people," said Jones, who operates offices in Grants Pass and Medford. "Whether it's here or statewide, the challenge is finding the skill sets we need."

"We get a lot of requests from clients wanting people with experience in medical offices, but fewer and fewer people have the experience," she said. "But those are the same people that we're looking for positions for, so something has got to give."

Employers are looking for people to step in and hit the ground running, Jones said.

"Years ago, people were willing to train more on the job than they are today," she said. "They're expecting greater performance in a shorter period of time."

Looking ahead to the rest of 2014, Jones suggested the pendulum is swinging the right way for people with wood-products backgrounds.

"For a long time, a lot of jobs were disappearing," Jones said. "I was excited to see growth in that sector — that's what our skill set is. People here have experience in manufacturing."

Two secondary wood-products firms opened last year in White City: Terra Mai, which recycles building materials, and Custom Door Products.

Josephine County saw its seasonally adjusted jobless rate fall below double digits to 9.9 percent from 10.2 percent in November. It stood at 11.6 percent a year ago.

Jones said the amount of hours billed by her company grew at a faster rate in Josephine County last year than in Jackson County.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, friend him on Facebook and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/EconomicEdge.

In this Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, photo, job seekers sign in before meeting prospective employers during a career fair at a hotel in Dallas. The Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims, on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/LM Otero) - AP