A larger-than-expected uptick in Grant County unemployment numbers for the month of January resulted from the partial government shutdown that ran from Dec. 22 to Jan. 25.

The unemployment rate, which had been steadily dropping from 14.2 percent in September 2012 to a low of 6.2 percent in July 2018, rose quickly to 8.5 percent in January 2019.

That was the highest January unemployment rate of any county in Oregon, according to the Oregon Employment Department’s seasonally adjusted figures based on estimates from household surveys.

Unemployment rates in many Eastern Oregon counties typically increase in winter as there is less work available in the timber and tourism businesses. But the unusually higher increase this winter was related to federal furloughs, according to regional economist Christopher Rich in La Grande.

About 45 percent of nonfarm workers in Grant County are employed by schools and city, county, state or federal governments. About 11.6 percent are federal workers.

The figure is similar in Harney County, which also saw a sharp increase in the unemployment rate in January. Other Eastern Oregon counties with a smaller percentage of federal workers, such as Morrow and Union counties, saw a smaller impact from the government shutdown, Rich said.

“Furloughed federal employees were classified as unemployed on temporary layoff under household survey definitions used to calculate labor force statistics, such as the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed,” Rich said. “These employees were classified as employed, however, under establishment survey definitions used to calculate total nonfarm and industry level employment.”

Grant County was at the high end among five Eastern Oregon counties over the past year for an increase in the raw unemployment rate at 3.6 percent and for an increase in the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate at 1.7 percent.

The number of nonfarm workers in Grant County fell from 2,180 in January 2018 to 2,140 in January 2019. Declines were seen in the financial, information, manufacturing, education and health service sectors, and in local and federal governments. There was an increase of 10 workers in state government.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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