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Central Oregon jobless rates keep on falling


(Updated: Adding economist background on what rates include, how compiled)

Following the state’s lead, unemployment levels dropped significantly across the High Desert in February, the Oregon Employment Department’s regional economist said Tuesday.

Deschutes County saw its rate plummet to the lowest level on record (comparable county records only go back to 1990). Although the rates in Crook and Jefferson counties are not historic lows, they remain well below the 25-year average, said Regional Economist Damon Runberg.

Here’s his breakdown, by county:

Crook County: The unemployment rate dropped significantly to 6.2 percent from 6.6 percent in January. The rate was 7.5 percent last February.

Despite no significant hiring by Crook County businesses, the number of employed residents is up by nearly 200 from this time last year. The growth in employed is likely the result of Crook residents finding work in Deschutes County businesses.

Employment levels were little changed from January (+10 jobs); however typical seasonal patterns usually result in a monthly loss of 40 jobs in February.

The number of nonfarm jobs in Crook County businesses is unchanged from last February. Wood product manufacturing continues to post over-the-year job losses (-50). No other industry posted significant losses from last year. Industry employment gains were largely concentrated in education and health services, but there were also moderate gains in information and leisure and hospitality.

Deschutes County (Bend-Redmond MSA): The unemployment rate reached a series low of 4 percent in Deschutes County, comparable records go back to 1990. February tied the largest monthly drop in county history, falling 0.6 percentage points. The rate is down from last February when it was 5 percent. Declining unemployment is being driven by rapid hiring with over 3,700 additional employed residents from last year.

The county added nearly 800 jobs from January as we move past the seasonal employment low. Monthly gains outpaced seasonal expectations as the county typically only adds around 200 jobs from January to February.

Local Deschutes County businesses continue to hire at a fast pace. Employment levels remain up 3.8 percent from last February (+2,850 jobs), significantly faster than the statewide growth of 2.1 percent.

Employment gains continue to be spread across a variety of industries. There was particularly fast growth in information, health care, transportation, and financial activities. Other growth industries include construction and manufacturing. After six years of continuous job growth leisure and hospitality (primarily tourism related businesses) posted two consecutive months of over-the-year job losses.

Jefferson County: The unemployment rate dropped to 5.6 percent in February, down significantly from 6 percent in January and 6.8 percent in February 2016.

Jefferson County added 50 jobs in February. The county typically posts small job losses in February.

Jefferson County businesses continue to post modest job growth over the past year, adding 110 jobs (+1.8%). Growth is largely being driven by manufacturing, in particular, the wood products sector which added 80 jobs from last February. There were no significant private sector losses, but Indian tribal employment continues to post losses from last year (-90).

As a reminder, Runberg said, the number of unemployed is not a count of individuals on unemployment insurance. The number of unemployed is estimated using a survey of households.

To be unemployed, an individual was not working during the reference period, were available for work, and made specific efforts to find employment sometime in the past four weeks. If an individual exhausts their unemployment insurance benefits, they would still be counted as statistically unemployed, assuming they continue to look for work.

During the recession, “there was a lot of attention paid to discouraged workers,” Runberg said. “These are individuals who are no longer counted as unemployed since they stopped looking for work.”

The count of discouraged workers at the county level is not available, but there were around 6,000 discouraged workers in Oregon as of February.

The economist added, “Discouraged workers represents a very small share of our total labor force of nearly 2.1 million people. In fact, if we counted those discouraged workers as unemployed it would only raise the statewide unemployment rate from 4 percent to 4.3 percent.”

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