As state unemployment levels gradually rebound, Columbia County residents find jobs in the Portland area.

Oregon’s unemployment rate may still be high, but it’s down from February. In fact, March saw the state’s lowest unemployment rate since October 2008.

“As the economy improves everywhere, Columbia County will see the benefits,” said Shawna Sykes, workforce analyst at the Oregon Employment Department. “Employment has improved gradually, but it’s a slow process.”

Oregon’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 8.2 percent in March and 8.3 percent in February. In March, non-farm payroll employment in Oregon rose by 1,900 jobs, the private sector added 2,700 jobs, and the public sector cut 800. Overall, the past four months have seen an increase of about 3,800 in jobs.

The numbers may seem promising, but the slow decrease in unemployment at the state and local level doesn’t necessarily mean that Columbia County is adding jobs.

Most of Columbia County’s residents travel outside the county for work. Sykes said 72 percent of Columbia County residents commute outside of the county.

“There’s a lot of leakage there,” she said. “When residents commute long distances, they usually go to lunch and shop where they work since it’s more convenient than coming back to Columbia County. We have an issue there.”

Because of Columbia County’s close proximity to Portland, the area’s employment tends to rely on the greater Portland area rather than being self-sustaining.

“Clatsop County is actually a lot more sustaining than Columbia County because of its distance from Portland,” Sykes said. “Clatsop County has two hospitals. Here in Columbia County, we can’t support one hospital.”

Skyes said that according to 2012 data, government accounted for the highest amount of jobs in Columbia County, coming in at 21 percent. The largest employment within the government sector was public education. Just behind government was trade transportation and utilities at 20 percent, followed by manufacturing at 14 percent.

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