BEND, OR -- Central Oregon’s jobless rate remains at near record-low levels; although, Regional Employment Economist Damon Runberg says the latest numbers are subject to change. "December figures are always a funny one for us, because we’re actively in the process of revising these estimates with payroll tax records," he tells KBND News, "Which means, we actually go back with the estimated numbers and try to get those as close as we can to what happened in reality using tax records."
Runberg doesn't think the numbers can go much lower, "We didn’t see the unemployment rates change across Central Oregon, really at all. But, we’re at very low levels for us, so at this point it’s really difficult to see the unemployment rate go down. We’re tracking really closely with the state, in Deschutes County, so we’re sitting right around 4.1%." This time last year, Deschutes County was at 4.4%.
Crook and Jefferson counties aren't as low, but Runberg says their numbers remain strong, "The natural rate of unemployment in our rural communities just tends to be higher; that’s not a bad thing, it’s just the nature of those localized economies. Compared to historical norms, what we’d see in those communities, it is very, very low for them – their level of unemployment. And, you’re also seeing some of the similar narratives from our rural businesses who are saying they’re having challenges finding workers, or maybe the right worker." Jefferson County remained at 5.3% in December; a year ago, it was 6%. And, in Crook County, the jobless rate dropped a tenth of a point from November to 6.2%; In December 2017, it was 6.4%.
But, the rates themselves are not what Runberg is focused on. "The job numbers are the things that would catch your eye. We typically see job losses in December from November, but those losses were significantly fewer than we would typically expect. To put it another way, on a seasonally adjusted basis, we actually saw some pretty sizable job gains across Central Oregon, including our rural communities." He says the mild winter may contribute somewhat. However, he says that typically would lead to fewer losses in Construction offset by more lay-offs in Tourism & Hospitality. In December, the strongest growth for Deschutes County was in Professional and Business Services, as well as Construction, Health Care and Manufacturing. There were losses in Leisure & Hospitality, but Accommodation & Food Services saw strong growth from a year ago, which he says means hotels and restaurants are doing well.