'The holiday hiring season has improved in Lane County'

EUGENE, Ore. - More Oregonians have found work, and that means the unemployment rate is dropping.

The new figure - 7.7 percent - is the lowest jobless rate for Oregon in 5 years. The decrease comes from a combination of job growth and a shrinking workforce.

"Now we're starting to see an unemployment rate that's getting back to before the recession," said Brian Rooney, a state economist in Eugene.

Rooney said it's a sure sign that an Oregon economic expansion is gradually picking up speed.

Three job sectors are leading the way: Construction, health care and leisure and hospitality. "So we've been seeing general growth in the private sector," Rooney said.

In fact, construction jobs are up more than 9 percent from the same time last year - a sharp rebound from the depths of the recession.

Lane County numbers won't come out until next week, but Rooney expects good news.

"The holiday hiring season has improved in Lane County with the Harry and David call center coming back and some of the retail that we've seen growing in the area recently," Rooney said.

The 7.7 percent rate is just below the 7.8 percent level in September and well below the August report of 8.1 percent. That's a gain of nearly 8,500 jobs since August for the state.

On the flip side, another reason for the lower rates is a shrinking Oregon workforce - down in October by nearly 49,000 compared to last fall.

Rooney said if expected seasonal job losses in January aren't too severe, 2014 could see more good news for job seekers.

"Having the unemployment rate come down as it has over the last couple of months just really helps people looking for work," he said.