Jackson County's unemployment rate ticked up slightly in October even as the number of jobs in the county grew over the previous month.

Jackson County's unemployment rate ticked up slightly in October even as the number of jobs in the county grew over the previous month.

The Oregon Employment Department reported Monday that while some areas showed improvement, job losses in construction, manufacturing, leisure and hospitality pushed the estimated unemployment figure to a seasonally adjusted 12.4 percent, one-tenth of a percentage point higher than in September.

Although 470 payroll positions were added in October in retail trade and education, the county still has 4,630 fewer jobs than it did a year ago, when the unemployment rate was 8.8 percent. Another 220 Jackson County construction jobs and 140 in manufacturing disappeared in October.

While job creation has lagged in Southern Oregon, what got regional economist Guy Tauer's attention were declining numbers of workers.

"Looking at the civilian work force labor, you see it's dropped by 1,800 since October 2008," Tauer said.

Employment Department figures showed 104,713 people in the work force a year ago and 102,904 last month. The work force total is a combination of employed and unemployed workers, but does not count people who have stopped looking for work.

"It could be a combination of slower labor force growth, because of slowing inward migration, and some people becoming discouraged and dropping out all together."

Tauer said the labor force expanded dramatically in the first part of 2009 and then began falling off.

"It's pretty unusual to see a labor force declining over the year," he said. "It might be a function of some of those people deciding to stay on the sidelines for awhile."

Retail trade added 220 jobs, the lowest increase for the month of October in that sector since comparable numbers were first tallied in 2001.

"The increase of retail hires was a little soft," Tauer said. "The seasonal hiring trend has decreased through the decade, running between 2,500 and 2,200 up until 2005. After that, it dropped to about 1,500 in 2007 and 800 in 2008. Employers in the broader sector of retail trade are making do with the staff they have and spreading the work load over fewer people."

Tauer said a decline in October's national housing starts is another sign that industries dependant on new home construction may still wait some time before they see an upturn and sustained hiring.

In Josephine County, October's jobless figure climbed to a seasonally adjusted 14.2 percent from 14 percent in September. It was 10.1 percent a year ago.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.