Kathleen McLaughlin
The Bulletin

The unemployment rate in Deschutes County stayed near its historic low in July, but those numbers mask a serious slowdown in hiring, the Oregon Employment Department said Tuesday.

“We thought it was slowing, and it actually was slower than we thought,” said Damon Runberg, Central Oregon regional economist for the Employment Department. “It feels like we’re entering a different phase of the business cycle. At least in Central Oregon.”

Deschutes County’s unemployment rate in July was 4.2%, unchanged from the previous month and from July 2018, the Employment Department reported. The county’s lowest unemployment rate since 1990 was 4.1% in August 2018.

While there are few job seekers in Deschutes County, employers have also added few new jobs over the past 12 months. Employers added about 600 jobs over the past year, an increase of less than 1%, the Employment Department reported.

Several industries had a net loss of employment over the 12-month period. Professional and business services, an industry that includes engineers and consultants as well as services such as janitorial, declined by 500 jobs, or 4.6%.

Runberg said the decline was driven by business services, especially temp agencies. While the temp agencies are a business service, they place people across industries, so it’s impossible to tell whether the demand for temporary labor has declined in manufacturing, construction or some other sector, he said.

Leisure and hospitality, the largest source of employment in the county, also declined by 190 jobs, or 1.3%.

Hiring managers haven’t seen the change in their day-to-day work. “I searched for help all summer long,” said Elayne Hodge, general manager at the Original Pancake House in Bend. The restaurant has been busier this summer than last year, she said.

Joanie Krehbiel, who owns Wheel Fun Rentals, also thinks Bend’s tourism season has been even busier this year. “But I can manage it with the same amount of staff,” she said.

Krehbiel employs nine people, mostly teenagers, as bicycle rental clerks in the Old Mill District.

Other industries — health care, education, government and retail — offset the losses with more hiring, the Employment Department reported.

The fact that employers added fewer new positions indicates an end to rapid growth, but not necessarily a downturn.

“For your average Joe, it means less mobility,” Runberg said. “If you don’t like your job, and you’re looking for a different job or better job, it’s going to be hard to find.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com