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Winter snows helped employment figures

Snow in the Siskiyous produced tangible results on the economic front this winter.

Bureau of Labor Statistics February estimates released this week show Jackson County's seasonally adjusted jobless rate dropped to 5.2 percent, a figure in line with the heyday of 2005 and 2006, preceding the Great Recession.

"Our leisure and hospitality numbers ramp up this time of year with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival getting underway, but we certainly saw a much better ski season," said Guy Tauer, a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department. "With the snow, we've seen steadier job numbers related to snow with overnight stays that probably didn't happen last year."

During the past 12 months, leisure and hospitality employment grew by 250 jobs.

Overall, there were 2,170 more employees in February than a year ago, although some of those positions could have been filled by people holding down multiple jobs.

For apples-to-apples comparison, which can go back only to the post-timber era starting in 1990, the county's seasonally adjusted jobless rate has never dipped below the 5.3 percent rate of March through May 2007, which matched the December 2000 mark. Raw unemployment rates, which tend to swing to greater extremes than the seasonally adjusted figures, were measured at 4.7 percent in September and October 2006 and 4.5 percent in September and October 2005.

The labor force hit 99,534 in February, up 3,613 from a year earlier. At the same time, 2,170 jobs were added, a 2.7 percent gain.

Tauer said of the 5,000 high-paying jobs lost during the recession, only half had returned by 2014, according to the most recent data.

"Right now there are definitely more jobs on the lower and higher pay areas, but fewer middle-wage jobs," said Tauer, who defined lower-wage jobs as paying less than $23,000 annually and higher-wage jobs as paying $38,000 or more.

"That's just one snapshot, though," he said. "If you go back to the 1990s, there has been a polarization of job growth, with a premium for higher tech skills and critical thinking. The digital divide continues to happen."

How many were full-time and how many were part-time isn't part of the BLS report.

Nikki Jones, of Express Employment in Medford, said the majority of her company's customers are seeking to fill 40-hour-per-week roles, even if they're temporary positions. She said the general picture is trending to job expansion. She estimates 80 percent of the job requests filled by her firm are new positions.

"The full-time openings we see are usually a measure of newly created positions, not just refilling the same job over and over again," Jones said.

Manufacturing, running the gamut from technical and electronic companies to wood products enterprises, are all seeking help, along with service sector and health care operations.

"I have 43 different kinds of jobs and a total of 57 openings right now," she said. "I think the economy is definitely getting better."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31

Kevin Schilling, a groomer, preps the chairlift at the bunny slope of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area shortly before it opened for the season Dec. 14. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch