The Union County unemployment rate for August rose to 5.1 percent, compared to the 4.9 percent rate for July. More significantly, the number of both employed and unemployed workers continues to decline.

According to Oregon Employment Department figures, the county civilian labor force has lost 241 workers since August 2003, 195 of these in the last month.

Eastern Oregon regional economist Jason Yohannan said several factors might be to blame.

The August/July figures show the loss of 100 positions in state and local government. The slow fire season and the July 2 call up of more than 200 county National Guardsmen may also be involved, Yohannan said.

Reductions in government spending tend to impact Eastern Oregon harder than the rest of the state because we are more dependent on government jobs, Yohannan said.

About 24 percent of Union County nonfarm payroll jobs are with federal, state or local government according to 2002 figures published by the Oregon Employment Department.

Yohannan said it was difficult to track the loss of jobs due to the Guard call up because statistics were not kept on individuals.

In spite of this, "The timing seems to match perfectly with our data," he said.

If an employer does not fill a position left open by a Guardsman's deployment, the result is a loss for the labor force.

Fire fighting has declined across most of the country, but, Yohannan said, he does not yet have the statistics relating this to Union County employment.

Yohannan called firefighting, "a significant growth industry for Union County."

Union County had seen 11 years of growing employment before the downturn. This could become problematic if it continues.

"You don't want to see that over a longer term," Yohannan said.

During the 1990s, the Union County labor force grew slowly while the economy was increasing. This allowed the unemployment rate to shrink.

Yohannan said August was a disappointment for Oregon, with the unemployment rate increasing to 7.4 percent. Still, he said, 34,300 jobs had been created from the previous year.

This is approximately the same as the population gain over the same period.

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