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Jobless rates are at record lows, including Crook County's December rate, which dipped to 5.2%

Central Oregon and Oregon as a whole are seeing the lowest unemployment rates on record — or as far as records go back.

For the state, records go back to 1970, and for the Central Oregon region, records date back to 1990.

"It's the lowest the state has seen since comparable records in 1970, and since 1990, this is the lowest we have posted in all the central Oregon counties," said Regional Economist for the Oregon Employment Department Damon Runberg.

Central Oregon completed 2019 with continued strong hiring after a sluggish start to the year. These estimates are in the process of being revised using payroll tax records.

Runberg explained that the department uses payroll records every quarter to compile employment trends, job losses and job gains throughout the Central Oregon region.

The unemployment rate dipped to 5.2% in Crook County in December, down from 5.4% in November. The rate was 6.1% at this time last year.

The county added 120 jobs over the past year, a growth rate of 2.0%. Job growth over the past year was concentrated in transportation, information, and leisure and hospitality. Losses were largely limited to manufacturing.

In the information sector, the growth was mostly in the data centers, Runberg said. Also included in information sector is news media and movie theaters.

"In Crook County, whenever you see growth or declines or any sort of trend in information, know that the majority of that is going to be the data centers during that change," Runberg pointed out.

Warehousing utilities is included in transportation. Les Schwab Tires falls into this sector and is the largest employer in Crook County in the transportation sector.

"As far as job loss, we haven't seen a ton over the last year," Runberg continued. "For the most part, mostly small, positive growth across the board."

Manufacturing was the only sector that declined in the past year, with a loss of 40 jobs overall.

"It sounds like a lot, but it has been sort of a slow, continuous structural trickle. We are pretty accustomed to seeing slow, continuous losses in manufacturing in Crook County," said Runberg of the loss in manufacturing. He added that they have seen this trend since Woodgrain closed.

Crook County's 2% job growth over the past year is positive, and Runberg noted that maintaining this growth this late in the cycle is a positive trend. "To be honest, I am really surprised by that. We continue to see this sort of strong growth in the employment sector."

In Deschutes County, the unemployment rate dropped to 3.7% in December, down from 3.9% in November. The rate remains largely unchanged from this time last year, when it was 4.3%.

Deschutes County added 260 jobs in December. Typically, the county sees minor job losses in December.

The county finished 2019 on a strong note, adding 3,410 nonfarm jobs since December 2018 (+4.0%). Job growth was well distributed across most major industry sectors. The largest job gains were in leisure and hospitality, health services, retail trade and construction. There were no significant job losses over the past year; however, there were minor losses in professional and business services, durable goods and manufacturing.

The unemployment rate in Jefferson County dropped to 4.8% in December, down from 5.0% in November. The rate is down from 5.7% this time last year.

Jefferson County lost 90 jobs in December, a fairly typical pattern this time of year. Employment levels are up 1.1% from this time last year, a gain of 70 jobs. The strongest growth sectors included manufacturing and government. The only notable job losses were in professional and businesses services, which posted a loss of 70 jobs from this time last year, and health services.

Runberg emphasized that it has been a good year for all the central Oregon counties, especially this late in the economic cycle.

"It is the longest expansion in United States history to be maintaining the rate and level of growth that we have been seeing over 10 years — removed from the bottom of the recession. It's pretty impressive," added Runberg.

He noted that there is also a significant increase in the amount of people living in Crook County and working in Deschutes County.

"I like to remind people that we are one labor shed in the three-county area," he said. "It's more important to look at those employment outcomes of the residents, as opposed to jobs in the businesses within those counties — because our labor force crisscrosses these boundaries without realizing they are crossing them."

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