County figures getting better
Union County unemployment numbers drop nearly 1 percent from February to March
By Kelly Ducote/The Observer
Union County unemployment dropped from 10.4 percent to 9.7 percent from February to March, according to preliminary data released by WorkSource Oregon last week. Unemployment is down one percentage point from March 2012.
The first quarter of 2013 shows a continued recovery from the Great Recession that began last year.
“We had one year more of downturn for Union County,” said WorkSource Oregon Regional Economist Jason Yohannan. “Finally, in 2012 the numbers started going up.”
The most notable improvements come from the private sector, specifically in manufacturing, which was one of the hardest hit sectors during the recession. An estimated 60 jobs have been added to manufacturing in the past year.
“These numbers are showing improvement, but they are still below where they were four or five years ago,” Yohannan said. Union County lost more than 200 manufacturing jobs from 2007 to 2008, and continued to decline until last year.
Union County unemployment is still worse than the Oregon and national averages for March, which stood at 8.7 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively.
“We are recovering,” Yohannan said. “It’s a slow recovery at this point.”
The educational and health services group within the private sector seems to be leveling off after doing well during the recession, according to the data. That sector has lost an estimated 20 jobs in the past year.
Charlie Mitchell, the community and economic development director for the City of La Grande, said this is not a huge concern as Grande Ronde Hospital continues to expand and invest in other ways.
Mitchell said he is concerned about a decline in the labor force, which has dropped more than 330 people since March 2012.
“I don’t think anyone knows why,” Mitchell said. It could be that frustrated job seekers are dropping out and that others are aging out, he said.
Mitchell said the public sector is seeing the last ripples of the recession as entities like Eastern Oregon University announce budget crunches.
“Everyone is starting to constrict their budgets, which is difficult in a rural area where there needs to be a certain level of public service,” he said.
Still, numbers suggest there is relative stability in the public sector. State and local governments have each added roughly 10 jobs in Union County since March 2012.
“We hit bottom and are definitely on the rebound, but there’s still a long way to go to get to pre-recession rates,” Mitchell said. “Unemployment is down and job numbers are up. Indicators are good.”
Neighboring Wallowa County’s employment numbers show a less pronounced improvement as preliminary March unemployment was at 14.2 percent, up from 13.8 percent in February. Unemployment was at 14.7 percent at this time last year.