March 05, 2001 11:00 pm

By The Observer

Wallowa County had a 15 percent unemployment rate in January, the highest of any county in Oregon, according to the latest figures released by the Oregon Employment Department.

The rate jumped from the 10.7 percent reported for December, said Jason J. Yohannan, Eastern Oregon regional economist for the department.

In Union County, unemployment rose from 4.4 percent in December to 8.4 percent in January, the last month for which the state has figures.

Those figures compare to the statewide numbers of 4.0 percent in December and 5.3 percent in January.

The numbers include individuals 16 and older, non-farm payroll employment, self-employed, unpaid family workers, domestics and agricultural workers.

In Union County, the number of unemployed rose from 540 in December to 1,010 in January as the total labor force fell from 12,160 to 12,050.

Countywide, employment in manufacturing fell by 230 workers from 1,610 to 1,380. Retail and wholesale trade positions were hit hard, dropping by 170 jobs from 2,650 to 2,480. Of those jobs lost, 160 were in retail trade, reflecting layoffs following the Christmas shopping season.

Union County construction and mining jobs declined by 30 for the month, services by 10 jobs, both state and local government jobs by 70 each and federal jobs by 10, according to the report.

Total unemployment in Wallowa County rose from 340 in December to 470 in January, a loss of 130 jobs. Eighty of those were in non-manufacturing jobs, three in construction, and 20 each in retail trade and government positions.

The lowest unemployment area of the state is Corvallis and the rest of Benton County, where the figure is at 2.7 percent for January.

Of the 11 Oregon counties in double-digit unemployment, 10 are in Eastern or Southern Oregon. These include Baker at 10.8 percent, Grant at 13.6, Jefferson at 11.1, Klamath at 10.6, Lake at 12.8, Morrow at 14.1, Wheeler at 10.9 and Wasco at 10.7.