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December report shows jobless rate improving

Thanks to local manufacturers and retailers, more people worked in Jackson County last month than in December 2013.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Monday there were 1,070 more job holders here during the holiday shopping crunch than a year earlier. 

Just as national and state jobless figures have declined, Jackson County saw its seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edge down to 8.4 percent in December from 8.6 percent in November and 9.1 percent a year earlier. Oddly enough, however, several hundred more people had jobs here during November.

The government counts employment by place of work, not the employee's residence. It does not distinguish full-time from part-time work in its monthly reports. Ignoring those vagaries of government figures, 90,658 people worked in Jackson County in December, compared with 91,293 in November and 89,588 during December 2013.

Nikki Jones of Express Employment Professionals in Medford said she has found steady job creation locally in the industries with which she works.

"If you're talking job creation, and the changes we've seen in the last six months, the majority — 80 percent — are full-time in nature," Jones said. "The real change has been in the overall volume. The full-time jobs have been there, but there are just a lot more of them."

Jones has a book of 400 associates hoping to catch on with employers.

"Manufacturing has kicked into gear, and we're seeing full-time requests in that sector," she said. 

Her contacts range from plastic mode injection and fiberglass security case makers to general wood products, electronics and cabinetry firms. Food production, large and small, has picked up as well, she said.

"Where you see more part-time employment is in retail," she said. "I don't necessarily work with retailers, but I do see a lot of part-time positions posted."

During the preceding 12 months, payroll employment grew at a 3.7 percent rate, adding 2,940 jobs. Manufacturing accounted for 350 additional jobs, and retailers handed out 850 more paychecks.

"The numbers show things are starting to hit on all cylinders," said Guy Tauer, a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department. "That's the good news."

The bad news lies to the south and Mount Ashland.

"There's no snow, so there aren't people skiing, so there aren't people being employed," Tauer said.

While a variety of sectors steadily have added to their staffs, leisure and hospitality isn't among them. Neither is financial activities.

"Leisure and hospitality is pretty much unchanged from a year ago," Tauer said. "It's been a growth sector for a while, but it's pretty much taken a breather year-over-year."

Following the economic nosedive launched by the housing bubble, federal government average weekly hours data show Jackson County didn't surpass the 35-hour mark for workers in the private sector until last year. Again, both limited-hour employees and those working overtime are mixed together.

Jackson County employees worked 34.3 hours per week last month, down from 35.3 hours in December 2013. In November, the average weekly hours number was 34.7, very similar to the 34.8 hours a year earlier. 

"We have a lot of project workers, where they are needed less than five days, so they end up working less than 40 hours," Jones said. "And we have people taking on projects who already work, so they can go beyond 40 hours."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.