Rogue Valley 2018 Labor Force and Job Growth Review

by Guy Tauer

From the 30,000 foot view of our job and labor market, 2018 will go down as another year in the Rogue Valley’s long recovery from the Great Recession that saw continued job growth, low unemployment rates, and continued, but slowing expansion of the region’s civilian labor force.

Jackson County’s annual average unemployment rate in 2018 marched to record low of 4.7 percent, essentially unchanged from 4.7 percent in 2017. Josephine County’s 2018 annual average unemployment rate was slightly higher at 5.4 percent, tying the prior year’s record low rate going back to 1990. The Rogue Valley’s unemployment rate has been trending downward since the last peak in 2009.

The civilian labor force – those who are 16 and older, who are either employed or looked for work within the past 30 days – continued to grow in 2018 in both Jackson and Josephine counties. Both counties saw a slower rate of growth in their labor force than the prior year. In Josephine County, the labor force increased by just over 1,000 in 2016 and 2017, or 1.1 percent gains both years. In 2018, the labor force rose by 0.4 percent, or an increase of about 400. After reaching a pre-recession peak of about 35,300 in 2009, the civilian labor force fell to low of 32,200 in 2013. By 2018, the labor force attained a new peak of about 35,800, or an increase of 11.2 percent from the Great Recession trough.

Jackson County’s labor force growth has been slowing for the past few years, too. In 2016, the labor force rose briskly, increasing by 3,440 or 3.5 percent over the year. The following year the growth rate softened to 2.4 percent, or about a 2,500-person increase in the civilian labor force. In 2018, the county’s labor force rose by 1.4 percent, or a gain of 1,435. After climbing to its pre-recession peak of about 102,300 in 2009, the civilian labor force fell to low of 95,941 in 2013. By 2018, the labor force attained a new peak of about 105,400, or an increase of 10.2 percent from the trough brought on by the Great Recession.

The Rogue Valley’s population growth rate also slowed in 2018, so it’s not surprising to see a cooling trend in labor force growth rates. A tight housing market and low vacancy rates for rental units could be one factor in the slower rate of population and labor force growth in 2018.

Payroll Employment Trends Through 2018

Another high-level view of job market trends in 2018 is total nonfarm payroll employment growth rates. In Jackson County, total payroll employment declined from 2008 through 2011, as the Great Recession wreaked havoc on our economy and job market. Job growth finally returned with a 1.4 percent gain in 2012. The next couple years saw job growth of 2.4 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively. The job machine cranked up the next couple years with over 2,500 new jobs added and 3.3 percent growth in 2015 and 2016. In 2017 and 2018, Jackson County’s annual average job growth moderated back to 2.4 percent, just above the statewide growth rates of 2.2 percent and 2.0 percent during the past two years.

Josephine County was hit a bit harder during the downturn, losing jobs in five out of six years between 2007 and 2012. Since then, Josephine County has recovered all the jobs lost during that long downturn and is now about 1,000 payroll jobs above the previous pre-recession peak reached in 2006. Josephine County’s job growth rate in 2017 (3.0%) and 2018 (3.3%) outpaced both neighboring Jackson County and statewide job growth rates.

It’s not unexpected to see labor force and job growth rates begin to slow as the current economic expansion ages. But the question going forward is are we heading into a more prolonged and sustainable pace of job growth, sort of a “soft-landing” from the faster job growth rates seen a few years ago? Or are we now poised to see job growth soften even further and possibly turn negative once again if another recession occurs. Stay tuned. There’s never a dull moment, whichever direction the economy may be turning.

Guy Tauer Regional Economist, Jackson, and Josephine counties

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