Progress continues to be seen in Wallowa County's jobless rate over figures from last year.

Wallowa County had an estimated jobless rate of 6.1 percent in July 2004, down moderately from the June 2004 figure of 8.2 percent.

July's labor force estimates show 3,468 employed and 227 unemployed local residents. The current rate of unemployment in Wallowa County is 1.6 percentage points lower than in July 2003 and is the lowest local rate since October 2002.

It's also less than the statewide average for the first time since last September. With one exception, all local industries were stable or growing in July, and total nonfarm payroll employment increased to 2,530, its highest level since September 2002.

The one exception, of course, was local government. When public schools recess for the summer, such support personnel as teaching assistants, substitute teachers and food service workers often drop out of payroll job counts.

Administrators, certified teachers and others who work through - or are paid for - the summer months continue to be counted as employed in July and August.

Oregon's seasonally adjusted jobless rate again ranked second highest in the country in July. We were tied with Michigan (6.8%) and behind Alaska (7.2%). We've had the highest or second-highest rate in every month since July 2001. However, the gap between Oregon's rate and the country's has narrowed somewhat this year.

The difference between Oregon's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate and the corresponding national rate is plotted from 1996 to the present. January 1996, when Oregon's rate was 5.3 percent and the nation's was 5.6 percent, was the last time Oregon had a lower seasonally adjusted unemployment rate than the national average. This jobless rate difference reached its recent peak in January 2002, when Oregon's rate was 2.7 percentage points more than the United States'.

The gap narrowed later in 2002 but bounced up to 2.6 percentage points in April 2003 and 2.5 in May and July 2003. Despite our number-two state unemployment rate ranking, we've since closed to within 1.3 percentage points of the national average as of June and July 2004.

Jason Yohannon is the eastern Oregon regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department. Based in La Grande, he can be reached at (541) 963-7111, ext. 27.

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