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Wheeler County Economic Profile 

by Dallas Fridley | WorkSource Oregon

January 13, 2014


Wheeler County, located in sunny north central Oregon, is the least populated and one of the most beautiful counties in Oregon. Wheeler County is as rugged as any in Oregon, with the terrain varying widely from deep river canyons edged in rimrock to high timbered mountains covered with pine and fir.


Population Trends: Wheeler County's population grew for the first time in over a decade, climbing by five residents in 2013 to total 1,430 and ranking 24th among Oregon counties with a 0.4 percent gain. Looking back to its 2000 Census population total, Wheeler County declined by 117 residents through 2013, a loss of 7.6 percent, to rank second from the bottom in 35th position.In 2012, the county ranked first in Oregon for the share of its population age 65 or older, according to the latest available estimates from Portland State University. With 30.1 percent of its residents age 65 or older, Wheeler County more than doubled Oregon's 14.8 percent. Births in Wheeler County are typically outnumbered by deaths and net migration has not supported a sustained level of growth.

Labor Force Trends: Farm proprietors represent a significant share of Wheeler County's labor force, with 86 self-employed farm operators according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture. The county's annual jobless rate was one of the lowest in Oregon, averaging 7.6 percent in 2012 while ranking fifth. Oregon's annual average unemployment rate peaked at 11.1 percent in 2009 and has been subsiding ever since. By contrast, Wheeler County's 2009 unemployment rate was much lower, at 9.0 percent in 2009 but it rose substantially in 2010 to 10.5 percent. Wheeler County's unemployment rate improved in 2011, falling to 9.7 percent, while 2012's 7.6 percent rate represented a one-year drop of 2.1 percent. Seasonally adjusted jobless rates showed improvement in 2013, reaching 7.1 percent in November while ranking 12th, but still in the upper third of counties.High self-employment and a sparse population translate to low unemployment rates in Wheeler County although its labor force participation rate (LFPR) was below average. In 2012, Wheeler County ranked 24th for its 59.7 percent LFPR, lagging Oregon's LFPR by 3.7 percentage points.

Industry Employment Trends: Total nonfarm payroll employment in Wheeler County has remained relatively stable throughout the recession and recovery, rising by 15 jobs in 2012 to total 295 – and matching its total in 2005. We don't yet have final figures for 2013, but preliminary data suggest an average of 290 jobs or a drop of 1.7 percent (-5 jobs).Farm proprietors play an important role in the local job picture, supporting nonfarm jobs throughout the county. Nonfarm industries in Wheeler County are led by the local government with 125 jobs in 2012 or about 42 percent of the total. Around 17 percent of Wheeler County's jobs were found in trade, transportation, and utilities, while leisure and hospitality represented about 7 percent. Taken together, Wheeler County's top three nonfarm industries represented 195 jobs or about 66 percent of its 2012 total.


Wage and Income Trends: According to Oregon Employment Department data, the average job in Wheeler County paid $24,751 in 2012. That was just 56 percent of the statewide average. Wheeler County impressed in 2012, increasing its median household income (U.S. Census Bureau) by $3,573 or 8.5 percent in one year to rank 14th at $45,833. Wheeler County's median household income gap was $4,203 in 2012 or 8.4 percent below Oregon's $50,036.

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