Rogue Valley Labor Force, Employment, and Unemployment

by Guy Tauer

March 18, 2021

Newly revised data from the Local Area Unemployment Statistics Program (LAUS) gives a look at trends in Rogue Valley employment and unemployment. Before the pandemic struck, unemployment rates in the Rogue Valley were at record low points. In 2019, the annual average unemployment rate fell to 4.4% in Jackson County and 5.0% in Josephine County. Those annual averages mask the story that unemployment rates fell during the year, as Jackson County’s unemployment rate began 2019 around 4.8% and by end of the year had dipped to 3.5% – a record low going back to 1990. Josephine County also saw rates decline throughout 2019 and reached a low point in March 2020. Subsequently, with the pandemic gripping our economy and exacting an incalculable human toll, rates spiked to near or record peaks in just one month. Josephine County’s highest unemployment rates during the Great Recession were just above the rates seen during the recent COVID recession. Jackson County’s unemployment rate reached 15.6% in April 2020, a bit higher that the worst month of the Great Recession when rates reached about 13.3% in mid-2009.

In the pandemic recession, the period of higher unemployment rates seems to be much shorter than during the Great Recession, as long as present trends continue. As a result of the Great Recession, Jackson County’s unemployment rate remained at 10% or higher from November 2008 through March 2013In 2020, Jackson County’s unemployment rate was 10% or higher for only four months. The pandemic effect on the unemployment rate estimate was similar for Oregon and the U.S in January 2021. Unemployment rates for the Rogue Valley, the state, and U.S. were between 6.2% and 6.7%. Contrast the most recent month with March 2009, when Josephine County’s unemployment rate was 15.3%, while the U.S. rate was 8.7%.

The unemployment rate is the share of the unemployed within the civilian labor force.  The other portion of the civilian labor force are the employed residents of an area. As you might expect, the number of unemployed spiked during the spring of 2020 and has since trended lower, but remains above the pre-pandemic level in the Rogue Valley. About 3,900 Jackson County workers were unemployed before the pandemic struck. That figure spiked to 16,200 just one month later in April 2020. During the November 2020 to January 2021 period, the number of unemployed receded to about 6,700. The number of unemployed in Josephine County’s labor force jumped from about 1,500 before the pandemic to more than 5,400 in April 2020. Most recent estimates as of January 2021 show about 2,500 unemployed residents in Josephine’s labor force.
The Rogue Valley civilian labor force has grown since the start of the pandemic. The Jackson County labor force data is a bit choppy over the past year or so, with the number rising to reach 106,100 by June 2020 before again dipping to 101,200 in September. Since that time, the estimate of the total labor force rose to reach an all-time high of nearly 108,000. Josephine County also had a slight decline in the labor force totals during the summer months, dipping to 33,700 in September before rising to 37,100 by January 2021 – also a record labor force total for Josephine County.

The number of employed residents in Jackson County’s civilian labor force fell sharply at the start of the pandemic, falling from 98,800 in February 2020 to 87,300 in April. By January 2021, Jackson County total employed rose to 101,200. Josephine County saw a similar drop with total employed reaching a pre-pandemic peak in March 2020 of 34,200 before dropping to 30,500 just one month later. By January 2021, total employed residents reached 34,600 in Josephine County.


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