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Economic recovery

The Rogue Valley saw wild swings in unemployment from 2009 to 2019.

“We were in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s,” Guy Tauer said of the economic crash more than a decade ago.

Tauer is the Oregon Department of Employment’s regional economist for Jackson, Josephine, Coos and Curry counties.

Recession-era unemployment peaked at 13.3% in June 2009 in the Medford area.

The local unemployment rate plummeted to 4.6% in November of this year, according to state data.

“This is historically as low as we’ve seen in the Rogue Valley and statewide and nationally,” Tauer said.

Since the recession that started when a housing bubble burst, the nation has seen 116 months of growth, according to economists.

These days, help wanted signs dot the landscape, from fast food restaurants to retail stores. Most semi trucks traveling on I-5 sport signs trying to lure drivers.

A state survey of businesses found 57% of jobs in Oregon are hard to fill. The situation is similar in the Rogue Valley, where employers said 56% of jobs are hard to fill.

A lack of available workers was the top reason businesses said they have vacancies. The next most common reason was unfavorable working conditions, followed by a lack of qualified candidates.

Across Oregon, the most difficult-to-fill occupations are personal care aides, truck drivers, food prep workers, landscapers and groundskeepers, restaurant cooks and roofers.

Many industries in Jackson County recovered after the recession and went on to add additional jobs, according to an analysis by Tauer.

Manufacturing lost 1,700 jobs but regained about 1,800 jobs.

Leisure and hospitality employment fell by 1,170 but has since added 2,840.

The health care and social assistance sector — considered to be relatively recession-resistant — had virtually no job losses and has since added 4,700 jobs, Tauer found.

But construction, which took a beating in the recession, has yet to recover. The industry lost 3,140 jobs — about half of its workforce. Construction has since added back 2,000 jobs.

“Construction is still below where it was during the last expansion,” Tauer said. “Lending standards are tighter. There’s less appetite for risk in the development community. Banks are more cautious. Builders are more cautious.”

Although Medford is a retail hub, the retail industry lost 2,600 jobs but gained only 1,300 back.

Fears that retail stores will disappear as more people buy goods online probably are unfounded, Tauer said.

“I don’t see brick-and-mortar stores disappearing entirely. It’s not the retail apocalypse some people are talking about,” he said.

Many brick-and-mortar stores have started selling online, diversifying their customer base and blurring the lines between store and online sellers, Tauer said.

Although Jackson County continues to add jobs since the recession, many residents still are working in jobs that don’t pay very well, according to state data.

Of the top 10 occupations in the county based on number of employees, eight occupations pay less than $40,000 a year.

The job with the most workers — retail salesperson — pays $32,606 annually.

The No. 5 job based on total workers — food preparation and service — has the worst pay among the Top 10 with average wages of $25,853 annually. That category includes fast food workers.

The best paying jobs in the Top 10 are registered nurses (No. 4), who earn an average of $88,729, and general and operations managers (No. 9), whose salaries average $98,274.

As for whether the long economic expansion in the U.S. can continue, Tauer said he doesn’t see red flags at this point.

“Consumer spending in November was a little weaker than expected,” he said.

Manufacturing saw a slowdown due to global trade tensions, but trade deals should ease those worries, Tauer said.

Initial unemployment claims remain low, he said.

“Most signs are flashing green with a few cautionary yellow signs,” Tauer said.

Long-term, Oregonians can expect to see 246,500 jobs added across the state by 2027, according to an analysis by Gail Krumenauer, state employment economist.

The most growth will occur in the health care and social assistance area, with another 49,500 jobs added.

Krumenauer attributes that growth to the continued aging of Oregon’s population, as well as a projected increase in the number of people living here.

The professional and business services sector ranks second for projected job growth, with estimates of 41,200 more jobs.

Trade, transportation and utilities come in third, with projections of 36,700 more jobs.

Manufacturing will not return to its heyday in 1998 when the state had 228,500 manufacturing jobs. The industry will add more jobs compared to today, but still will reach only about 200,200 jobs in 2027, Krumenauer predicted.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

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