By Joseph Ditzler

The Bulletin

Unemployment dipped again in Central Oregon in January and marked another milestone on the way to a full recovery, the Oregon Employment Department reported Monday.

“Deschutes County’s unemployment rate is improving faster than any other metropolitan area in Oregon,” Regional Economist Damon Runberg wrote in a report released Monday.

Jobless rates in all three Central Oregon counties are higher than the state and national rates, but the gaps are narrowing. Plus, rates are falling in the High Desert primarily because more people are finding work, not due to unemployed workers dropping out of the labor force or retiring.

In Deschutes County, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped in January to 8.6 percent, according to the Employment Department. In January 2013, the rate was 10.4 percent.

Jefferson County’s rate stood at 9.7 percent in January, down from 12 percent a year ago.

Only Crook County in Central Oregon held onto a double-digit unemployment rate, at 10.9 percent, which is down from 13.6 percent in January 2013, according to department numbers. With a rate of 11.6 percent, Harney County had the state’s highest jobless rate.

Statewide, the unemployment rate stood at 7 percent in January and the national rate at 6.6 percent.

In Deschutes County, 7,530 workers reported being jobless in January, out of a labor force of 77,243. The labor force itself strengthened slightly over the past year, up by 252 in January from the same month a year earlier.

“Which bucks the trend we had for a while,” Runberg said Monday. “Not a huge jump … but not to see it shrinking for a month is to stop and say, ‘Whoa, are we turning a corner?’”

Over the past several years, a shrinking labor force led, in part, to declines in unemployment rates in some months.

Strongest growth in jobs continued in the same sector where it’s tracked the past two quarters, in professional and business services, according to department data. That category covers a multitude of occupations, from temporary office employees to lawyers. While not the largest sector in Deschutes County — that rank goes to the sector that includes retail — professional and business services added 690 jobs in the past year.

“It’s the story of 2013, I would say,” Runberg said. “A lot of industries are doing well, but it seemed to carry the recovery in 2013.”

The Employment Department collects data from employers with a guarantee of confidentiality, which limits the state’s ability to publicly detail, beyond hiring data, what industries are driving trends in smaller markets. However, jobs in business and professional services, white-collar jobs, typically pay better and require workers with a higher education, Runberg said.

But strong gains in hiring continue elsewhere. Education and health services, the second largest sector in Deschutes County with 10,600 employed in January, gained 370 workers in 2013, according to department data. Retail trade, which employed 9,630, gained 300 over the same period.

Regionwide, Central Oregon gained 3.4 percent more nonfarm workers, overall, not seasonally adjusted, between January 2013 and January 2014. Both Portland and the Willamette Valley posted 2.6 percent gains, according to the Employment Department.

Crook County gained 80 jobs since January 2013; Jefferson was up by 370, according to department data.

— Reporter: 541-617-7815,