Year-to-year drop from 13.7 to 11.7 percent was largest of all 36 counties

Although Crook County has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, recent data is providing cause for optimism going forward.

From October to November 2013, the county saw the sharpest decline in unemployment that it has seen in several months, dropping from 12.1 to 11.7 percent. Though encouraging, the more noteworthy development is that Crook County has experienced a greater year-to-year drop than any other county in Oregon. Since November 2012, unemployment has gone down 2 percent.

As far as the month-to-month change goes, it may be too early to tell what the sharper drop means.

"There is the potential that it could be overstated," said Melissa Greenaway, workforce analyst for the Oregon Employment Department's Central Oregon region. "Crook County has an older population. Part of the reason that the rate could be going down is because people are retiring."

Greenaway explained that when people retire, they are no longer counted in the labor force and that tends to push the unemployment rate down.

“We are most likely adding jobs, but there could also be an element of older people taking their retirement as well.”

Like Greenaway, Crook County Economic Development Manager Russ Deboodt was unsure what to make of the month-to-month decline. He pointed out that since the rate is seasonally-adjusted, it tends to ebb and flow at different times of the year.

Although Deboodt was pleased to see Crook County’s unemployment decline more sharply, he feels that there is still a lot of room for improvement.

“It is still 11.7 percent, so we still have a long way to go in that regard,” he said. “If definitely think it's a win, but there is still a lot of work to be done. A lot of people in our area are unemployed and we need to find a way to solve that problem.”

Deboodt seemed more encouraged by the year-to-year drop, saying it is “extremely positive that we are having the largest drop in the state of Oregon.”

“I think that speaks positively not just to Prineville, but the region,” he added.

For Greenaway, the year-to-year decline provides evidence that the economic recovery has arrived in Crook County and is taking root.

“It has taken us a while to get there, but we are now recovering faster than a lot of other areas in the state,” she said.

Greenaway explained that the recovery stated in the metropolitan areas such as Portland, Salem, and Eugene, but those improvements are now trickling toward rural communities.

“Most of the locations that got hit worse in the recession, Crook County being one of them, are recovering more quickly,” she added.

Throughout the past year, the greatest gains in the local job market have included transportation, warehousing, and utilities with 90 new jobs, as well as trade, transportation, and utilities, where another 140 jobs were added.

“There are certain areas that are really taking off,” Greenaway said.

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