Hood River County is at its lowest unemployment rate in over five years

The Oregon Employment Department has released its October unemployment figures that show Hood River County has not only one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, but its lowest rate in over five years.

The county’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 5.8 percent for the months of September and October mark the first time since August 2008 unemployment has gone below 6 percent. October’s numbers put Hood River as the county with the second-lowest unemployment rate in the state, just a tenth of a point above Benton County’s 5.7 percent seasonally adjusted rate. Without seasonal adjustments, Hood River County’s unemployment falls to 4.6 percent — the lowest unemployment rate by half a point.

“In the case of Hood River, man, your unemployment rate was pretty low,” said Damon Runberg, Central Oregon regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department. “It’s really great to see that.”

The adjusted unemployment rate for the state of Oregon is 7.7 percent, which is slightly higher than the national average of 7.3 percent. However, Runberg noted that unemployment rates may actually be even lower than what is listed. He explained that unemployment rates are calculated by analyzing the results of phone surveys and October’s survey was conducted during one of the weeks of the federal government shutdown. Runberg said numerous “non-essential” federal government employees who were furloughed during the shutdown identified themselves as unemployed, which inflated rates for that month.

Hood River’s unemployment rate hasn’t changed since September, but is down almost a whole point from October 2012’s rate of 6.7 percent. During the recession, Runberg said the county’s unemployment peaked and held at 8.4 percent for the majority of 2010.

Despite the positive growth, Hood River County isn’t adding jobs as quickly as other counties, but Runberg says the “big job gains” are coming from counties that also lost a lot more jobs during the economic meltdown of the late 2000s.

Hood River County’s slower rate of growth stems in part from the fact industries that were hit hard in the recession, construction in particular, don’t have as large of a presence in Hood River as they do in other counties around the state, according to Runberg. He said the county is thriving due to “really high ag employment” and called the tourism and hospitality sector “the big winner” of the county economy, which added 110 jobs since October 2012. Surprisingly, the transportation, warehouse, and utilities sector grew from 200 to 250 jobs over the past year — a statistic Runberg called “astronomical.” Another promising sign is the addition of more manufacturing jobs.

Before the bottom fell out of the U.S. housing market in 2007, Hood River County was hovering at around 4.5 percent unemployment. Runberg calculated that Hood River County “at the current rate of recovery should hit (4.5 percent) by the end of 2014.”

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