BEND, OR -- All three Central Oregon counties saw job gains, in December. But, regional economist Damon Runberg says 2015 as a whole was difficult for both Crook and Jefferson counties. "We saw all the counties go down in December, so we saw improvement there. But, those monthly changes - we wouldn’t call it a trend. But, needless to say, it’s good to see our rural community also see their unemployment rates drop a little bit." He tells KBND News, "Crook County is the one that actually job losses over the last year, so not a good year for them. In fact, employment numbers are down 2.1% over the last year, which was the largest employment drop of any county in Oregon, over the last year." He says it’s largely due to the massive layoffs from the shutdown of Woodgrain Millworks. "Although employment levels are down in the county, it’s not like this is a trend that’s affecting all industries in Crook County. It was really specific to one major layoff event."
Runberg adds, "If you just looked at the raw numbers of all of Central Oregon, it makes it look like an exceptional year for Central Oregon; the economy would be red hot. And, that’s true. But, it’s really only true for Deschutes County which, in the beginning of 2015, recovered completely from the recession all the jobs that were lost. And, since then, we’ve been in a period of economic expansion. So really, good times for Deschutes County, our only urban, metro community east of the Cascades."
Deschutes County’s rate dropped 0.2% last month, to 5.8%. Runberg says, "What’s even more impressive about the unemployment rate going down, is we’re actually seeing the labor force grow – which is partially from population growth; there’s a lot of people moving here – it also means there’s a lot of optimism in the local labor market, meaning folks who may have been discouraged a few years ago, and left the labor market, they’re back in it and looking for work because there are jobs out there."
Jefferson and Crook counties each dropped 0.3% in December, landing at 7.3% for Jefferson County and 8% in Crook County.