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Unemployment up in Klamath

By LEE BEACH, Herald and News, 3/6/08

   Unemployment rose significantly in Klamath and Lake counties from December through January, and community leaders say weather and a downturn in the real estate market are partly to blame.
   In Klamath County, unemployment jumped nearly 2 percentage points from 8.1 to 10 percent, and in Lake County, it jumped from 7.6 to 9.8 percent. Only two counties in Oregon had higher rates — Gilliam at 12.4 and Grant at 12 percent, according to the latest unemployment figu res f rom Work sou rce Oregon.
   A slowdown
   Jan Swander, Oregon Employment Department work for c e a n a ly st for Southern Oregon, characterized the upswing in unemployment figures as a slowdown.
   “What I see with this month was a spread (of u nemploy ment) a mong a nu mber of d i f ferent industries,” she said.
   “ W e n o r m a l l y s e e e mployment d r o p s i n January, but clearly, it began on shakier ground, just like the rest of the country.”
   She poi nt ed out the largest job declines were in the private sector, in pa r t due t o a slow i ng real estate market added to normal seasonal slowdowns.
   I n K la math Cou nty, for ex a mple, 370 c onstruction jobs were lost since the season’s peak in August.
   “ A s I v i s i t w i t h employers in both counties, you can see signs for ‘Now Hiring.’ In the employment department there are still listings, a lthough maybe a few less,” she said.
   “With a recession, it’s a process of watching the economy. Right now we are just calling it a slowdown.”
   Weather factor
   Klamath County Commissioner Al Switzer said January employment was pr obably i mpac t e d by inclement weather, causing layoffs in construct ion a nd new housi ng starts.
   He believes the market for existing homes is still moving, though not quite like it was.
   “I think the California market will break here soon,” he said. “A lot of baby boomers are retiring, and we’re still a very attractive housing market cost wise.”
   Switzer said he thinks the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank’s reduction of its short-term lending rate would have a positive economic impact.
   Another possible factor in the increase in local unemployment, Switzer said, is that this is a traditionally slower time for agriculture.
   “ It seems like a big jump, but I’m not aware of any businesses shutting down in the area — perhaps just slowing some. I do have a friend who l ives i n Newberg who recently had a layoff for the f irst time in 20 years.”
   Some positive signs
   Klamath Falls Mayor Todd Kellstrom said he wasn’t surprised by the i nc rea se i n u nemployment.
   “It had to happen as the real estate market cycled dow n,” he sa id. “After it went to such a high, things had to come down.”
   He also felt the high gas prices have had an impact, and that people would reduce their use until they felt more comfortable. He related that a r e st au r at eu r f r iend says people still go out to dinner, but they are cutting back on what they order, dropping appetizers, for instance.
   “Some businesses are doing well, buying land while prices are down. Michael’s is being built, a nd there’s still other commercial development goi ng on, a nd I th i n k that will help us carry through,” Kellstrom said. “As an optimist, I believe things will come around.”

H&N photo by Todd E. Swenson
Henry Peterson, chef at the Grey Gull Restaurant and Lounge, works on an online form at Worksource Klamath Wednesday.
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