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Jackson County jobless rate falls to 7.7 percent

Government data showed a larger Jackson County labor force, more people at work and more jobless during January than a year earlier.

Figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Oregon Employment Department indicated an industrious December gave way to a quiet January. 

The labor force included 1,963 more people than in January 2014, with 3,756 more holding jobs, but an extra 1,793 seeking employment. After crunching the numbers, the labor bureau reported a seasonally adjusted jobless rate of 7.7 percent, following an 8.4 percent rate in December, and 8.9 percent in January 2014.

"January is typically a low point for tourism-fueled leisure and hospitality jobs," said Guy Tauer, a regional economist for the Employment Department. "It's a slow season for a lot of industries, and the statistics bear it out. Even the ones building momentum took a breather in January, specifically professional and business services dipped by 50. Some of the decline can be attributed to seasonal declines related to slower shipping and package delivery after the holiday season."

While negative numbers prevailed in nearly every category from December to January, the year-over-year figures looked much better, with growth in every broad sector but information, which dropped 110 positions. That sector was unchanged from December.

"In general, we had solid over-the-year growth led by health care and social assistance," Tauer said.

Nikki Jones, owner of Express Employment in Medford, said January placements topped the previous year, but things have slowed since then. Through March 10, Express Employment had hired 205 new workers in 2014, but just 130 this year.

"Employment is such a guessing game," Jones said. "We anticipate and put the numbers together for what we think will be the case. But then Erickson lays off 100-plus people."

Overall, she anticipates things will pick up.

"There is more manufacturing demand around the state as a whole, but not in our area," Jones said. "Demand is lower than it was this time last year, when we were ramping up for a company in Grants Pass. We sent 100 people to one place, but this year we certainly don't need that many."

Although there is potential for wage growth in the region, Tauer said unemployment remains a significant obstacle.

"As jobs are added at this faster clip, wage growth may soon follow as employers have to raise wages to attract and retain workers whose skills and occupations are in demand," Tauer said. "However, elevated unemployment rates still show there is some slack in the labor market. Also, the rising prospects of finding work may encourage some who have stopped looking for work to re-enter the job market. That additional supply of labor may both keep unemployment rates from declining faster and relieve pressure on employers to raise wages faster to recruit and retain their employees."

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.