Employment in Central Oregon at Historic Low Levels. Some Employers Struggling to Fit Jobs.

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According to Damon Runberg Regional Economist Serving the East Cascades of Oregon, Employment Department seasonal hiring was stronger than expected in March across much of Central Oregon. Despite better than expected hiring, unemployment rates across the region were largely unchanged from their historically low levels.
With rates dipping all over the region, Deschutes at 4 percent, Crook at 6 percent and Jefferson County at 5.5 percent some local employers are finding it difficult to fill empty positions.

“It is a tough dilemma,” says Runber. “Most folks think of a lower employment rate as being a good thing. It is true to a certain degree, but when we get this low it places a considerable burden on businesses. You aren’t the only business that is having a difficult time filling an open vacancy, this has been an increasing trend over the past several years. In the short term there are only so many things that can be done to solve the labor shortage.

“The easiest is offer higher wages, but many businesses are limited by how much they can offer when they have tight margins. Another short term option is to skill up incumbent workers. If you cannot find a worker who meets all the minimum qualifications then it may be necessary to recruit a less experienced worker who shows potential to learn the business. Finally, recruiting outside of the Central Oregon area can help bolster an applicant pool.

“Besides these short run options there isn’t much that can be done to alleviate the labor shortage. Our labor tightness is being exaggerated by the housing affordability issue and our relative geographic isolation. In the long run many of these issues can be addressed with education (OSU Cascades is a good start), the UGB expansion and continued population growth.

“However we won’t see any of those long run changes help by this summer. Low wage businesses, such as restaurants, hotels and recreation, will experience the most significant issues with difficult to fill positions this summer. That being said, few businesses are immune to this labor shortage.”

Crook County: The unemployment rate dipped slightly to 6.0 percent from 6.2 percent in February. The rate was 7.4 percent last March.

Seasonal hiring began in March with Crook County adding 90 jobs from February, a slightly larger gain than typically expected this time of year. Expect to see the pace of hiring accelerate as we move closer to summer.

Total nonfarm employment is largely unchanged from last March. There are around 30 more jobs from this time last year, which would not be considered significant growth (+0.5 percent). Modest job growth in health care, information, and construction is largely being negated by the continued declines in wood product manufacturing.

Deschutes County (Bend-Redmond MSA): The seasonally adjusted unemployment ratewas unchanged in March at the series low of 4.0 percent. The rate is down from last March when it was 4.7 percent, not a statistically significant decline.

There continued to be strong early spring hiring with Deschutes County adding 770 jobs from February. Monthly gains continue to outpace seasonal expectations this year as the county typically only adds around 360 jobs in March. These gains were largely driven by private sector hiring with particularly strong gains from the professional sector, construction, retail, and leisure & hospitality.

Job growth over the past year maintained its strong pace at 3.9 percent (+2,980 jobs) from March 2016. The current economic expansion continues to be diverse with the largest gains in health care, professional and business services, retail, financial activities, and construction. Manufacturing also posted impressive gains over the past year. These are not all brewing jobs as durable goods manufacturers accounted for over half the manufacturing jobs added. Leisure and hospitality was the only industry sector to post losses from last year, perhaps a sign that the tourism industry is reaching a plateau after years of fast growth.

Jefferson County: The unemployment rate was 5.5 percent in March, down slightly from 5.7 percent in February. The rate is down significantly from last March when it was 6.9 percent.

Jefferson County added80 jobs in March, fairly typical hiring for this time of year.

There were around 110 more jobs in Jefferson County in March compared to the same time last year (+1.8 percent). The private sector expanded at a faster pace (+3.8 percent) due to particularly strong gains from wood products manufacturing, construction, and financial activities. Public sector losses were largely concentrated in the Indian tribal government.

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