BEND, OR -- December’s unemployment numbers are out and regional economist Damon Runberg says, as a whole, 2016 was a good year for Central Oregon’s economy - especially in Deschutes County. "Our employment rate is now 4.4%, which is historically about as low as we’ve ever seen in Deschutes County. That’s a real challenge now for businesses, but the beneficiary is workers. It puts an upward pressure on wages so we’re starting to see some really strong wage gains across the county, right now."
Crook County’s unemployment rate dropped half a point to 6.5% in December, and Jefferson County’s rate also fell .5%, to 6.1%. Runberg tells KBND News, "Most of that is being driven by the fact that most of these workers in Crook and Jefferson counties are finding work in Deschutes County." He adds, "A rising tide of business hiring in Deschutes County lowers all unemployment rates in Central Oregon. And, that’s what I’m talking about with the commuters that we see. In a lot of ways, some of these communities are bedroom communities for our larger employment centers in Central Oregon."
Runberg says the positive shift in rural counties is partly because there were no major lay-off events, like in 2015. "We haven’t overcome those losses yet, either. To not have seen many significant gains in the last year implies that the number of jobs that were in those communities is about the same as after those layoffs occurred. So, we haven’t seen any worsening of the employment picture in those communities, but we also haven’t seen significant recovery, particularly in Crook County."