A Peek at Rogue Valley Employment from the 2016 American Community Survey

by Guy Tauer

October 2, 2017

The 2016 one-year estimates from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) were recently released. In this data series, areas with population of 65,000 and greater are published. For the Rogue Valley, data for Jackson and Josephine County are available. For more detailed geographies, you’ll have to rely upon the upcoming 2011-2016 five-year estimates which are scheduled to drop on December 7, 2017. For larger geographies where one-year estimates are available, the advantage is that it’s a more current point-in-time estimate. The disadvantage of the one-year estimates, particularly as the geographic area populations are closer to the 65,000 threshold for data availability, the error ranges for the estimates become larger. The five-year estimates have a larger sample size, therefore have smaller error ranges.

This brief article will look at a few of the facts and figures from the latest release, focusing on employment-related data for the Rogue Valley. We’ll touch on only a very few of the many pieces of information of this compendium of data that provides the closest look at who we are and what we do of nearly any government survey or program. Since you have been informed about the margin of error embedded in these survey-based estimates, I won’t belabor those caveats in this article. I would encourage data users who need more detail to visit the Census Bureau’s American Factfinder website to do additional research to understand the limitations of the data. These data are found under the “people” then “employment” categories in the “Topics” button on the advanced search option on the American Factfinder homepage.

Employment and Labor Force

As a starting point, let’s look at estimates of the unemployment rate. Due to many technical differences, estimates from ACS will never equal the estimates in the labor force data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Looking at these additional figures serves as a good reality check, as both are estimates. They should at least have similar values and show parallel trends over time. While the BLS labor force data at the county level don’t provide additional demographic detail, the American Community Survey estimates go into much greater detail. As the data become more granular, the margin of error rises in the ACS data.
Comparing unemployment rate estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics with the ACS figures does show similar trends and rates over time for especially Jackson County. Josephine County ACS estimates show unemployment reaching a low in 2014 and then climbing slightly by 2016. But the change during that time is likely within the margin of error, meaning the change is most likely not statistically significant. The Bureau of Labor Statistics rates show a steady decline from 2012 to 2016. Which is the correct figure? Neither one as these are both estimates with slightly different methodologies and caveats. But this comparison does put in context the survey-based nature of these figures and that it’s an estimate – caution in interpreting these figures is advised.

Class of Worker

One often-cited statistic is the percent of all workers who are self-employed, and the Rogue Valley has been historically known as an area with a higher than average percent of those self-employed in their own businesses. In 2016, about 16.0 percent of Josephine County workers were self-employed in either incorporated or non-incorporated businesses. In Jackson County, a slightly lower but still above average 14.7 percent of workers were employed in their own businesses. In Oregon statewide, 11.2 percent of employed residents were self-employed in their own businesses.  

Looking at the other broad categories published for Jackson County, 77 percent of workers were in the private sector. Another 12 percent worked in government and just 0.2 percent were unpaid family workers. In Josephine County, the distribution was similar with a slightly higher percent of self-employed and a couple percentage points smaller share of private-sector workers. Those percentages were little changed in the Rogue Valley between 2012 and 2016.

Health Insurance Coverage by Employment Status

Unlike the class of worker categories that change little over time, there has been a large increase in health insurance coverage in just a few years. In 2012, 15 percent of Josephine County residents lacked health insurance. By 2016, the uninsured percent of population fell to 6.8 percent. In Jackson County the uninsured rate fell from 17.4 percent to just 6.2 percent of the population over those four years.

Analyzing health insurance coverage by employment status reveals more interesting trends. In Jackson County, 94.2 percent of unemployed had health insurance in 2016, compared with 90.4 percent of the employed population with health insurance. Things were different just four years earlier when only 44.1 percent of Jackson County unemployed had health insurance compared with 75.5 percent of employed residents who had health insurance. In 2016, 21.1 percent of employed residents with health insurance had public coverage. For unemployed residents with health insurance, 63.1 percent had public coverage. The trend was similar in Josephine County, where public coverage was more prevalent for unemployed with health insurance and private coverage was more common for employed residents in Josephine County who had health insurance in 2016.

Commuting to Work

About three-fourths of all workers in the Rogue Valley drove alone to work in 2016, a share little changed since 2012. In Jackson County, about 8 percent of workers worked from home compared with 4.6 percent of workers in Josephine County. Public transportation is little used for commuting to work in the Rogue Valley. From 2012 to 2016 the percent of employed residents using public transportation ranged from 1.8 to 0.2 percent in Jackson County and from 0.1 percent to 1.0 percent in Josephine County.
Additional details are available regarding when workers commute to work. This information may be valuable for transportation planners, as routes can be adjusted to accommodate more work commuters if the policy goals are to increase public transportation usage in the Rogue Valley. These data show there is room to move the needle toward greater usage of public transportation for work commutes. The mean average commute time in the Rogue Valley was about 18 minutes. The mean commute times in Multnomah and Washington counties were 28 and 25 minutes, respectively. Furthermore, only 5.5 percent of workers in Jackson County and 10.5 percent of workers in Josephine County had commutes of 45 minutes or longer. Sixteen percent of Multnomah County workers and about 14 percent of Washington County workers had commutes of 45 minutes or longer. These and other similar statistics are quality of life measurements that typify why the Rogue Valley is still a relatively easy area to live and commute in.
This short summary is only a taste of the full buffet available for hungry data hounds to sink their teeth into from the American Community Survey. In a few weeks, additional data from the five-year estimates will be available, which will provide information for smaller geographies as well as data with a larger sample size and smaller error ranges for areas with populations 65,000 and greater.

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