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Like the 'Rust Belt', 'Timber Belt' and Harney County Are Hurting

January 7, 2016

While Harney County residents are asking armed protesters to leave, many locals are sympathetic to their issues. Economists say the root may lie in the West’s rural economy.

Harney County is sparsely populated, with 7,000 residents living on 10,000 square miles of land. That used to mean a healthy timber industry.

But Josh Lehner with the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis says since 1978 Harney County has lost 99 percent of its wood product jobs. 

Oregon Office of Economic Analysis

“All those manufacturing jobs are gone," he said. "You still have a decent amount of farming jobs, somewhere around 25 to 30 percent of the local job mix. And then, what’s left beyond that is largely the federal government and the state and local government.”

Overall, Harney County’s employment rate has remained flat for the last 40 years.

Oregon Office of Economic Analysis

Economists say the county is part of a "Timber Belt" that’s been hit just as hard as the "Rust Belt" of the northeastern United States.

The Timber Belt runs from the rural counties of Northern California, through Oregon and up to Washington.

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Since 1978, Harney County has lost 99 percent of its wood products jobs.