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Jackson County jobless rate lowest in 25 years

The local employment numbers show there have been few times like this in the Rogue Valley even if you go back decades.

Jackson County’s April seasonally adjusted jobless rate of 4.6 percent matched the lowest on the books going back to the early 1990s, when the present record system began. Guy Tauer, a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department, said the raw April figure of 4.5 percent is among the lowest on record with December 2017.

The parking lots at medical offices and hospitals, manufacturing sites, downtown garages and the Medford airport indicate healthy activity. But retail centers are hit and miss, with scores of empty spaces becoming routine at the Rogue Valley Mall.

Officially, the Jackson County labor forced peaked at 106,492 in October 2017, but it remains close to that high. It’s been above 105,000 the past two months and includes 2,384 more people than a year ago.

Tauer points out the labor force only includes people working or seeking work. The ever-present transient population in the downtown Medford core doesn’t factor into the figures compiled by the BLS.

“There’s a constant flow migrating in and out of Jackson County,” Tauer said. “There are people retiring, leaving the workforce or graduating (from high school or college) and joining the workforce.”

The state routinely reports on posted job openings that go unfilled, usually because of the lack of qualified candidates. There’s no way of knowing whether the wave of college graduates (most of the country’s colleges hold commencement ceremonies in May) will address those needs.

“We always see a spike in hiring during June, July and August,” Tauer said. “But we don’t know if the degrees and skills are what employers are looking for.”

Total payroll employment grew by 1,000 jobs in April, spurred by three industries: Leisure and hospitality tacked on 330 positions; private education and health services jumped by 250 people; and professional and business services added 160 paychecks.

In the past 12 months, Jackson County employers have added 2,390 payroll jobs, a growth rate of 2.8 percent.

Updated payroll data show construction has added 550 jobs in the past year.

“We’re finally starting to see faster growth there than what we have seen,” Tauer said.

Although leisure and hospitality businesses are ramping up for summer, long-term growth has plateaued.

“Leisure and hospitality has been one sector that really pulled us out of the recession,” Tauer said. “It’s showed pretty fast growth, but year-over-year, the trend line is pretty flat. That’s to be expected because there has been so much growth. At some point, when you open up a lot of restaurants, you get ahead of demand and things have to take a pause and catch up. That’s what you would expect in this business cycle.”

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