Portland jobless rate falls again-rural Oregon, not so much

Carla Axtman

Things appear to be looking up (slightly) on the jobs front for Portland:

Richard Read, The Oregonian:

Unemployment in the Portland metro area fell in October to 9 percent, matching the national rate, Oregon officials said today.

The two-tenths of a percent drop since September isn't statistically significant, but the increments have added up, bringing greater Portland's seasonally adjusted rate down 1.4 percent year-to-year.

Jobless rates elsewhere in Oregon remain high, however, with Central Oregon's Crook County still topping them all, stuck at 15.8 percent. Statewide, the unemployment rate was 9.5 percent in October.

I would guess that at least part of the problem in rural Oregon is the trickling off of county timber payments. Some would also argue that restrictions on timber harvest is a big part of the issue. But I'm not so sure that's sums up the problems in their entirety. There is certainly a huge resistance by at least some parts of rural Oregon to invest in local infrastructure that could potentially boost their ability to draw business to the region.

I certainly don't have all the answers. Honestly, I might not have any of them. So I'm curious as to what our readers think about what's keeping things slow in the rural parts of the state?

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    Thanks for the article. Rural unemployment is a tough issue. Small towns are losing businesses for various reasons. CRP programs have idled wheat production on tens of thousands of acres, which is good for wildlife but bad for nearby small towns and the people who used to work in various businesses which support active farming. Many small towns have lost their only bank due to consolidation in the banking industry. Retailing in rural areas has become extremely difficult, in part due to competition from Internet based retailers. As a person with small town roots I am fearful that we will soon start to see consolidiation of school districts and even county governments in rural areas. Public jobs in many rural areas are among the higest paid jobs in the area, and the losses will ripple through the economies very quickly.

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    The Oregonian seems to confuse Portland Metro with Portland. The Portland Metro includes Multnomah (8.9% unemployment), Washington (7.8%), Clackamas (8.8%) and Clark County. The numbers for Clark County are not yet published by Washington State, but have been about 12% most of this year.

    If we were talking about only the Oregon part of the Metro region the unemployment rate would be meaningfully below the national average. I point this out because many in the business community continue to claim that we are worse off than the nation and we need to reduce state taxes more to solve the problem. This will also be an issue in the mayoral election where the candidates will all be subject to pressure by the same community. This is not to say that 9.0% is a great number, but there is a real limit to what local government can do to solve a national and even an international problem.

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      You're right, John. For all the fears that Oregonians are fleeing Portland for Vancouver, the economy in VAncouver and Clark County generally is doing much worse than the Portland Metro area or most of the urban areas in Oregon.

      There is much, much more to a healthy economy than tax rates and government policies.

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    Carla - Thanks for the opportunity to chime in here. As the economic development manager for Prineville and Crook County, I think it's important to point out that most of the job creation before the recession was directly tied to the housing market. Everything from wood-products, to construction, real estate, title companies, etc. In 2007, the unemployment rate in Crook County was 6.5%, which was the lowest it had been since the 1960's. When the bubble finally burst, most of those jobs went with it.

    The Oregon Employment Department shows a steady decrease in manufacturing jobs since 1990, mostly related to a decline in sawmills and wood products. While jobs in government, healthcare, and education have remained fairly stable over the same period, jobs in agriculture and timber have been declining. Logging restrictions certainly play a role, but so does cheap lumber from foreign countries like South America, and new technology which reduces the need for manual labor.

    Education also plays a role. Only 15% of Crook County residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Workers with little education and low skills are often place-bound, so we’re dealing with both structural and cyclical unemployment where available jobs don’t match the skills of the workforce, and the recession has led to fewer jobs being available.

    The data center industry is literally keeping the economy afloat right now with construction activity and the 55 full-time employees at facebook (70% of those hires from Crook County). There’s a long list of economic benefits for these projects, especially in small communities. They are just one aspect of our overall strategic plan to diversify the economy and create family-wage jobs, but they are providing a much-needed boost as employment levels stagnate.

    On the bright side, we celebrated the opening of a satellite college campus (partnership between COCC/OSU) here in Prineville with credit and non-credit classes, adult basic education, and a certified teaching kitchen. My office is now located in the building, and we’re currently working on plans to bring a Small Business Development Center here, and create infrastructure to help local businesses. We have 14 classes being offered in Prineville Fall term, with close to 300 students attending classes in math, writing, sociology, computer, and natural resources.

    There are many constraints facing rural communities, and it would be impossible for me to highlight all of them. While education should remain a focus, I do believe we have a responsibility to find work for the unskilled folks in our community. The Ochoco National Forest provides an immense opportunity to create jobs through thinning projects, biomass, and sustainable timber harvests. There is virtually no logging in the Ochoco’s outside of private property. I’m hoping our Congressional delegation can come up with a plan, because rural communities are very limited in options for employment.

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    Rural communities don't have the option to sell bundled worthless derivatives to suckers or create supercommittees that make a mockery of actual, you know, work. Maybe the state could offer classes in Hoodwinking 101, to help those folks obtain a plush life.

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    A devotion to Milton Friedman is cursing the US economy. When the documentary "Inside Job" is nominated for an Acadamy Award there is acknowledgement of the truths provided. However, who is defending Supply Side and condemning the millions of worthy citizens of this country who are trying to draw attention to the massive looting? On BO the regular two or three voices condemn the victims and falsely charge them with attacking the police. It is overwhelmingly untrue. But it does reveal the truly sadistic and hateful hearts of a few of the regulars on BO.

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      On BO the regular two or three voices condemn the victims and falsely charge them with attacking the police. It is overwhelmingly untrue. But it does reveal the truly sadistic and hateful hearts of a few of the regulars on BO.

      I assume you're talking about commenters, rather than contributors.

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    Yes Kari, I am. I appreciate the opportunity to express my opinions on BO; I also value BO for allowing diverse points of view. A nineteen year old woman in Seattle has lost her baby after being kicked and pepper sprayed by a Seattle Policeman. The fetus was three months old. The violence carried out by police at UC Davis has been viewed by many. And yet the children are the violent ones.

    Can we forgive them when they know exactly what they are doing? The most that they risk (police) is paid leave and a promotion.

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