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Seasonally adjusted jobless rate dips to 7 percent for first time since May 2008

Jackson County's February seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dipped to 7.0 percent, a level not seen since May 2008, and the lowest figure since April 2008's 6.7 percent reading.

Figures compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed 559 more people at work in the county during February and 3.7 percent year-over-year job growth with 3,200 more positions filled. The January jobless rate was 7.7 percent and the February 2014 jobless rate was 8.6 percent.

Since the beginning of 2001, non-seasonally adjusted figures show health care expanding from 9,410 jobs in Jackson County to 13,560. The increase has been relentless, only momentarily faltering a month or two here and there.

Manufacturing, which includes much of the wood products industry, has taken a different path. At the start of 2001, the manufacturing sector employed 8,310. For the better part of the next eight years, manufacturing accounted for between 7,000 and 8,000 local jobs; then the Great Recession upended the sector. Employment plummeted to 5,940 in January 2010 before gradually rebounding to 7,600 last month, putting it on par with pre-recession averages

"It's looking good," said Ainoura Oussenbec, a workforce analyst for the Oregon Employment Department. "We can say today there are 3,000 more jobs today than 12 months ago. Not only that, but manufacturing and health care tend to have the mostly full-time jobs that are higher paying with benefits. Manufacturing has been growing since 2010 and health care really didn't have a recession."

While the year-over-year figures reflect solid growth, the four weeks of February were relatively lackluster.

During that period, total payroll employment showed little change. Retail trade continued to shed seasonal jobs, slipping 540 below January. Construction, however, began its annual upturn, gaining 80 jobs. The mild winter spurred tourist activity, with Oregon Shakespeare Festival beginning its run. The result is an 160 more leisure and hospitality positions than reported in January and a 500 job increase year-over-year.

"Our tourism numbers are up year-over-year," reported Anne Jenkins of Travel Medford. "Occupancy and average daily numbers increased and there's probably a correlation in hiring. There is a need for more housekeepers and more front-desk help. On top of that, the wineries have seen an increase in visitors, and the weather has helped tremendously with all that."

Government employment increased by a total of 260 jobs in February, with state education and local education combining to account for 230 of those positions.

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/EconomicEdge.