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Unemployment rate drops in Jackson County

Jackson County’s 11.3% unemployment rate in June is down 3.1% from May and marks a sharp drop from the peak of 16.1% in April.

According to the latest data from the Oregon Employment Department, the county added 3,060 jobs in June, though many industries continue to struggle in these tough economic times.

Other indicators point to more long-term improvement in the unemployment picture as well.

“The trends in initial claims have definitely come down,” said Guy Tauer, regional economist at the employment department.

For the week ending July 25, 319 initial unemployment claims were filed, somewhat more than pre-pandemic levels of 200 a week but far below the thousands of claims each week since mid-March.

April remains the worst month for unemployment, surpassing the 14.7% rate in March 2009, during the peak of the Great Recession.

Josephine County also posted a drop from 12.1% in May to 11.3% in June.

Statewide, the unemployment rate was 11.2% in June from 14.2% in May.

While initial claims have come down, large segments of the local economy remain hard hit by job losses because of the economic downturn.

“A lot of those positions have not come back,” Tauer said.

The leisure and hospitality industry is down 42% from June of last year. Local education dropped 15% from a year ago, and other services such as hair stylists, nail salons and tattoo parlors are down 11%.

Health Care and social assistance is off 2.6%, but since that industry represents a huge part of the local economy that translates into 420 jobs.

While trends are pointing in the right direction, the rate at which the economy recovers will depend on what happens with COVID-19.

“At present, we’re not under any restrictions that would lead to the job losses of March,” Tauer said.

The employment department has struggled to keep up with the unprecedented number of claims filed, including legislation that paved the way for unemployment for the self employed and the extra $600 a week under the federal CARES Act, which hasn’t been renewed by the federal government and has expired.

Those who couldn’t work because of COVID-19 reasons, such as taking care of a family member or becoming sick with the virus, were also eligible to receive benefits.

By Aug. 8, the employment department expects to resolve 19,016 outstanding applications that has led to frustration among the unemployed.

Wait times for those trying to call the employment department have dropped from two hours to 44 minutes.

Since March, the state has paid out $3.4 billion in unemployment benefits and has received 533,300 claims.

In March, the department had 100 employees processing claims but now has more than 1,000.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.