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Return of Year-Over-Year Job Gains in Central Oregon
by Damon Runberg
Published May-20-2013

The writing may have been on the wall months before the recession began five years ago. After years of rapid over-the-year growth in nonfarm employment the rate of growth began to slow in 2006. In Central Oregon - which includes Crook, Deschutes, and Jefferson counties - this ever-decreasing rate of growth turned into an ever-increasing rate of decline beginning in early to mid-2007 for most counties in the region. Year-over-year employment losses peaked in the spring and summer of 2009. After more than four years of job losses and stagnation, consistent over-the-year job gains retuned to the region in the latter half of 2012 and this trend continued into 2013 (Graph 1).

The Central Oregon counties experienced months with year-over-year growth beginning in 2010 and into 2011. However, this growth was fleeting and never led to a new hiring trend. The period from 2010 through the first half of 2012 was very unusual for the region as annual change in nonfarm employment usually follows very clear trends, either going up or down. This period was characterized by no clear trend with several months of growth often followed by several months of equivalent declines in employment.

This past summer saw a return to consistent year-over-year growth, which continued into 2013. Deschutes County is currently experiencing its strongest employment growth since before the recession began in 2007. From August 2012 through January 2013, nonfarm employment showed an average over-the-year increase of 1,000 jobs.

Although year-over-year growth is finally beginning to trend up, the region's employment levels are far from their peak before the onset of the recession. Job losses relative to peak employment varied greatly across the region's counties. For example, Crook County's employment bottomed out after losing more than 27 percent of its totalemployment from the peak employment month, whereas Deschutes County lost 16 percent, and Jefferson County dropped 18 percent (Graph 2). The state, at the depths of the recession, was only down about 8.5 percent from its peak employment month.

As of March 2013, Jefferson County was the only county in the region to gain back at least one-third of the jobs lost during the recession (+43%), which is lower than the statewide recovery of about 45 percent. Crook and Deschutes counties' recoveries are developing more slowly; as of March 2013, they gained back only 10 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Recent year-over-year gains in employment throughout Central Oregon are a positive trend, illustrating that the economy is finally beginning to show real signs of recovery. However, these gains need to be taken in the context of how deep the recession was in the region. Even with very strong growth over the last year, Deschutes County's employment in March 2013 was still more than 14 percent lower than the peak employment level. To get back to peak employment levels, the county will need to regain more than 10,000 jobs.

Graph 1
Job recovery is gaining traction in Central Oregon
Graph 2
Percent job losses in Central Oregon since peak