The Rise, Fall and Rise of Rogue Valley’s Civilian Labor Force

by Guy Tauer

August 24, 2017

We have recently seen unemployment rates fall to historically low levels in both Jackson and Josephine counties. You might presume that unemployment rates are falling due to a couple of factors. One might be improved job market conditions – less people being laid off and more industries adding workers. Another reason you might suspect why the unemployment rates are falling is as baby boomer retirements ramp up, this would reduce the labor force and help lower unemployment rates. If these are your assumptions, you are only about one-half correct.

It is true that recent jobs growth and total employed resident numbers have been on the increase following the Great Recession. Total employed in Jackson County eclipsed 100,000 for the first time in July 2017, substantially higher than the most recent pre-recession peak of about 96,000 in 2007. Josephine County total employed residents recently reached nearly 34,000, slightly more than its most recent pre-recession total in spring of 2007 of about 32,500. Total unemployed residents in the Rogue Valley recently hit lows not seen in nearly 30 years. Total unemployed Jackson County residents, seasonally adjusted, stood at about 5,000 in July 2017, just above the series low of about 4,100 reached in early 2017. Josephine County total unemployed residents reached a series low in spring 2017 of about 1,600. By July total unemployed rose a bit, to around 2,000. This is also historically low. Back in 1990, there were approximately 1,900 unemployed residents, when the labor force was considerably smaller. Other things being equal, job growth, more total employed, and less total unemployed residents puts downward pressure on unemployment rates.

Turning to the labor force side of the equation, the combined trends of less youth participation in the labor force, leveling off of growth in female labor force participation, and baby boomers heading to retirement lowered the labor force participation rate (LFPR) over the longer term. That is the percent of the population age 16 and older who are either employed or unemployed and have looked for work in the past month. Back in 2014, we did a report regarding declining labor force participation rate, found here.

In this analysis, we had predicted Oregon’s LFPR to decline from 61.4 percent in 2013 to about 60.5 percent by 2016. But a funny thing happened during that time, Oregon’s economic recovery hit full throttle and likely brought people back participating in the labor force, either working or looking for work in the now-brightening job market. In reality, Oregon’s LFPR actually rose from a revised 60.9 percent in 2013 to 62.6 percent in 2016.

In the Rogue Valley, our LFPR rates also improved. Jackson County’s climbed slightly from 57.0 percent to 57.6 percent during that time. Josephine County had an even larger jump in the LFPR, up from 47.1 percent in 2013 to 48.5 percent in 2016.

Turning to the labor force total trends in the Rogue Valley, we see a distinct deep recession and subsequent strengthening rebound resident in labor force figures for both Jackson and Josephine counties.

In Jackson County, the labor force grew steadily through the housing boom-fed expansion in the 2000s. The labor force reached the pre-recession peak in February 2009 at about 103,400. The Great Recession took a great toll on the labor force number, falling by about 7.7 percent to reach a recent low of 95,400 in October 2013. Since that time, the labor force recovered all the recession-fed losses, climbing above its recent peak to reach about 105,100 in July 2017. Growing population of working-age residents, and improved job market, and an expanding economy have boosted the LRPR and net labor force totals in Jackson County.
Josephine County’s labor force total trend essentially echoed Jackson’s since 2000. Josephine’s most recent pre-recession peak occurred in February 2009 at just shy of 36,000. By late 2013, there were about 32,000 in the labor force and the recession impacted a wide swath of industries and jobs – many tied to housing and construction sectors. But the recent recovery is putting the Great Recession farther back in our economic rear-view mirror. By July 2017, the county’s labor force totals are essentially back to that pre-recession peak, at about 35,900.
All of these trends show that while not all industries and workers have recovered fully from the painful recession, on balance the Rogue Valley economy is healing in many aspects from the deep downturn in the late 2000s, including the labor force figures, and to a lesser degree, the labor force participation rate.

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