Rogue Valley Labor Force, Unemployment and Employment

by Guy Tauer

May 9, 2019

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 estimates of people based on where they reside, developed from a survey of households. These data include estimates of the civilian labor force, total employed, and total unemployed for counties and some larger towns and cities.

Unemployment Rates

The most often cited figure resulting from the household survey 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 with 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 4.7 percent in 2017 and stayed near that record low in 2018.

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. 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 low of 5.4 percent in 2017 and was essentially unchanged in 2018 at 5.5 percent. As labor markets tightened with historically low unemployment rates, wages began to rise 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 6,370 to reach 95,941. Retirements of baby-boomers could be a factor in the decline. During the next four years, the CLF rose again to reach 104,763 in 2018, 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 2018 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 3,132. During the next five years, steady job growth contributed to rising labor force totals in Josephine County. In 2018 Josephine County also reached a record, at 35,929.

The Rogue Valley had slightly steep labor force losses during and just after the Great Recession than Oregon statewide. During the recovery over the past four years, the Rogue Valley labor force growth rates nearly matched statewide trends. Labor force growth rate slowed in 2018 for Oregon, Jackson, and Josephine counties.
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 86,594 in 2013, or a 9.6 percent decline in six years. Rising total employed in the past five years brought the number above the 2007 peak, reaching 99,740 in 2018.

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 12.5 percent from 2006 to 2013. Since that time, total employed rose steadily and is above the previous pre-recession peak by 1,195 as of 2018, reaching 33,939.

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 who were in the civilian labor force. Over the next nine years, total unemployed dropped to about 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 2009. Unemployed dropped steadily through 2017 to 1,884 and climbed just slightly in 2018 to 1,990. This nearly matched the lowest net number of unemployed Josephine County residents since the year 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 2018 data preliminary and subject to revision.

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