Rogue Valley Labor Force, Unemployment and Employment

by Guy Tauer

April 3, 2018

In recent articles, we frequently discussed payroll employment trends or nonfarm payroll employment by industry. These data looked at counts of jobs based on where the businesses or jobs were located. Now we are going to change gears slightly and examine labor force data from the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. These statistics are a count of people based on where they reside. These data include estimates of the civilian labor force, total employed, and total unemployed by county and some larger towns and cities.

Unemployment Rates

The most often cited figure is the unemployment rate. While you may hear some say that the “real” unemployment rate is much higher than the published figures, this definition of unemployment has been measured and calculated consistently going back to 1990 for local areas. It is a comparable measure of labor utilization and reflects the relative ease or difficulty for job seekers finding work and employers finding workers. By using the same definition over time, it is possible to track trends and compare current economic conditions to the past.

In Jackson County, the annual average unemployment rate fell to low points of 5.6 percent in 2000 at the end of a 10-year economic expansion and again in 2007 during the housing boom. The Great Recession resulted in a spike in the rate, which reached a peak in 2009 at 12.8 percent. Since then, unemployment rates fell steadily to a record low of 4.8 percent in 2017.

Josephine County’s unemployment rate fell somewhat steadily from 10.5 percent in 1993 to its previous record low of 6.6 percent in 2006. During the Great Recession in just three short years the rate spiked to 14.5 percent in 2009. In the eight subsequent years, unemployment rates edged continually lower to a new record series low of 5.4 percent in 2017. As labor markets tightened with historically low unemployment rates, wages are beginning to show signs of rising in response to the difficulty employers have in recruiting and retaining workers. In the U.S., new claims for unemployment insurance recently hit a 45-year low.

Civilian Labor Force

The civilian labor force (CLF) is the sum of the non-institutionalized population ages 16 and older who are either employed or unemployed. In Jackson County, the civilian labor force grew steadily from 73,122 in 1990 to reach a peak of 102,309 in 2009. From 2009 to 2013 the CLF fell by about 6,550 to reach 95,760. Retirements of baby-boomers could be a factor in the decline. During the next four years, the CLF rose again to reach 103,952, a new record peak. An improving job market and employment growth along with an increase in the population were plausible reasons for the resumption of labor force growth.

Although significantly smaller, Josephine County’s civilian labor force had a similar pattern of change from 1990 to 2017 compared with neighboring Jackson County. Josephine’s labor force grew from 26,457 in 1990 to a previous peak of 35,332 in 2009. The labor force declined from 2009 to 2013, dropping by 3,192. During the next four years, steady job growth contributed to rising labor force totals in Josephine County. In 2017 Josephine County also reached a record, at 35,392.

Comparing growth rates of the labor force between the Rogue Valley and Oregon, we see that the Rogue Valley had slightly steep labor force losses during and just after the Great Recession. During the recovery over the past four years, the Rogue Valley labor force growth rates nearly matched statewide trends.

Another statistic often cited is the labor force participation rate (LFPR). This is the percent of the 16 and older population that is in the labor force. Oregon’s LFPR in 2016 was 62.6 percent. Jackson County’s LFPR was estimated at 57.6 percent and Josephine trailed both Oregon and Jackson at 48.5 percent. The LFPR is correlated to the average age of the area’s population. In Oregon, 16.8 percent of the population was 65 years and older in 2016. Jackson (21.3%) and Josephine (26.1%) had higher shares of older residents. Those ages 65 and older are less likely to be in the labor force than younger age groups. Curry County had among the lowest LFPR among Oregon counties in 2016, and also the highest percent of population ages 65 and older.

Total Employed

Total employed is a count of people who are employed by place of residence, including self-employed, wage and salary workers, agriculture and other workers whether or not they are working in a payroll job. Total employed in Jackson County followed a similar trend to the CLF. The prior peak occurred in 2007 just before the Great Recession came crashing down. Total employed fell from 95,750 in 2007 to 86,407 in 2013, or a 9.8 percent decline in six years. Rising total employed in the past four years brought the number above the 2007 peak, reaching 98,993 in 2017.

Josephine County’s total employed pattern was similar to Jackson’s, with the peak occurring a year sooner in 2006. Josephine had a slightly steeper loss, with total employed dropping by 12.8 percent from 2006 to 2013. Since that time, total employed rose steadily and is above the previous pre-recession peak by about 740 as of 2017, reaching 33,487.

Total Unemployed

Between 1990 and 2007, the number of unemployed in Jackson County varied between about 5,000 and 7,500. During the Great Recession, the figure spiked to more than 13,000 unemployed Jackson County residents. Over the next eight years, total unemployed dropped to less than 5,000, comparable with the lowest levels in the past 30 years. But even in relatively good times, a significant number of individuals who looked for work in the past month did not obtain a job.

Josephine County’s total pattern mirrored Jackson County’s since 1990. The number more than doubled from less than 2,500 in 2007 to more than 5,100 just two years later in 2010. Unemployed dropped steadily through 2017, to about 1,900. This was the lowest net number of unemployed Josephine County residents since the year 2000. This was the second lowest net number of unemployed since comparable data are available back to 1990. These longer term labor force data highlight the depth and the severity of the most recent downturn in the local area and the steady improvement in more recent years. Each year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics revises these data with more up-to-date information, so consider the 2017 data preliminary and subject to revision.

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