June 24, 2003 11:00 pm

More people are employed now in Union and Wallowa counties than at any time this year, according to figures released by the Oregon Employment Department.

The department reported that 11,776 people were employed in Union County in May, leaving the unemployment rate at 6.3 percent, the lowest since the 5.2 figure in December 2002.

In Wallowa County, 2,950 people were employed in May, which left the unemployment rate at 11.9 percent, the lowest of the year and the lowest since the 9.6 rate in December 2002.

In Union County, the 6.3 percent compares favorably to the 7.2 percent unemployment rate for April this year, but the rate is well above the May 2002 rate of 4.9 percent.

In Wallowa County, the unemployment rate has been above 13 percent all year and peaked for the year at 15.7 in March. It was 15.1 percent in April.

From the April to May figures — in each county — there was an increase of 50 workers in the leisure and hospitality field in and an increase of 40 workers in governmental positions.

While the unemployment rates are comparatively low, the actual numbers of workers are lower than some months in the past.

In Union County, 11,766 were employed in May; in July 2001, the county had 12,770 employed. For the same month in 2001, Wallowa County had 3,460 compared to the number employed last month of 2,950.

The state unemployment rate for May is listed at 8.2 percent, up from 8 percent in April.