Oregon Labor Market Information System
Bookmark and Share
On Display Now: Oregon's Museum Employment
by Jason J. Yohannan
Published Jun-24-2013

Earlier this year, Oregon's leisure and hospitality industry achieved a milestone by fully recovering from the Great Recession, at least as measured by seasonally adjusted monthly job statistics. Restaurants, hotels, and closely related businesses drive the employment trends in Oregon's leisure and hospitality sector, and they largely powered this rebound. However, restaurants and hotels are not the only segments of the broader industry on the upswing.

Tucked away deep in the leisure subcategory of "arts, entertainment, and recreation" are approximately seven dozen establishments dedicated to sharing with you the wonders of history, art, science, and more. These are Oregon's museums.

To be sure, museums are more of a cultural story than a job story. The 87 or so museums counted as private-sector employers in the Oregon Employment Department's database make up less than 1 percent of this state's leisure and hospitality jobs and less than 0.1 percent of all nonfarm jobs.

Nevertheless, Oregon's museums are contributing their fair share and then some to the state's recovery. According to statistics from the Employment Department's Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages program, Oregon's museums employed more than 1,200 workers, on average, in 2012 (Graph 1). That was more than in any other year since comparable records began in 2001 and an increase of 20 percent from just two years earlier.

Several of Oregon's museums operate under the umbrella of a government agency and therefore are not included in Graph 1's private-sector job counts. Museums run solely by volunteers also wouldn't factor into the trends shown in Graph 1.

As one might guess, the vast majority of Oregon museums operate as not-for-profit entities. Many have education, historic preservation, or a related purpose as their core mission. But that statement isn't universal. Oregon Employment Department records affirm that approximately 18 percent of the private-sector employers in Oregon's museum industry are for-profit businesses.

Graph 1
Oregon museum employment is on the rise (private sector only)
Lots to See and Do in the Big City
The website of the Oregon Museums Association ( www.oregonmuseums.org) offers links to more than 150 member institutions, spread liberally throughout the state from Ontario to Klamath Falls to Astoria. Similarly, Oregon Employment Department records reveal that most of Oregon's 36 counties have at least one private-sector museum with some paid employment. It's correct to think of museums as an industry that touches all regions of the state.

At the end of the day, though, the reality is that the Portland metropolitan area is the epicenter of Oregon's museum employment. More than two out of every three museum jobs in Oregon are located in one of the five counties that comprise the Oregon portion of the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Graph 2 depicts the geographic distribution of Oregon's museum jobs in a pie chart, with Portland's dominance readily apparent. If you've lived in Oregon for any reasonable length of time, there's a decent chance you visited one or two of the prominent Portland-area institutions that uphold this Pac-Man-like pie slice.

"Other Western Oregon" captures the second-largest share of Oregon museum employment in Graph 2, with "Other" in this case denoting the west side of the state outside of the Portland, Salem, Medford, and Eugene metro areas. This second-place region attains its meaningful position in the state's museum employment array thanks to some distinctive attractions in Oregon's coastal areas.

Graph 2
Portland metro leads Oregon's museum job counts 2012 employment by area
Who Works in a Museum?
Among the 718 job categories for which we have employment data, three occupations are perhaps most closely associated with museums:

  • Archivists appraise, edit, and direct safekeeping of permanent records and historically valuable documents; participate in research activities based on archival materials.

  • Curators administer collections, such as artwork, collectibles, historic items, or scientific specimens of museums or other institutions; may conduct instructional, research, or public service activities of institution.

  • Museum technicians and conservators restore, maintain, or prepare objects in museum collections for storage, research, or exhibit; may work with specimens such as fossils, skeletal parts, or botanicals; or artifacts, textiles, or art; may identify and record objects or install and arrange them in exhibits; includes book or document conservators.

While archivists, curators, and conservators certainly perform valuable functions that are often indispensable to the long-term success of a museum, none of those three rank as the top occupation within the state's museum workforce when measured by employment size. That honor goes to cashiers (Table 1).

Perhaps that's not so surprising when you think about what it takes to welcome visitors to these institutions on a day-to-day basis. Museums often charge admission, and many have gift shops for their patrons to browse, creating the demand for cashiers.

Please note that Graphs 1 and 2 from earlier in this article summarize employment trends explicitly for the museum industry. Our occupational employment statistics are unavailable at quite that fine a level of detail, so Table 1 in this section lists the top occupations for a slightly broader industry - museums, historical sites, and similar institutions. By doing so, Table 1's occupational employment data introduce jobs from private-sector zoos, nature parks, and botanical gardens that aren't part of the industrial employment data in Graphs 1 and 2.

That little anomaly partially explains why, for instance, nonfarm animal caretakers climbed all the way up to number six in the occupations list. Still, museums constitute more than three-fourths of employment for the broader industry even after nature parks and the like are thrown into the mix, so the information in Table 1 does have relevance here.

Occupational employment estimates suggest that Oregon had 107 curators in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Table 1 captures 58 of them - those who work for private-sector museums, historical sites, and similar institutions. Other curators may work for museums that are a branch of government and therefore excluded from this analysis, or they may work for an employer not pigeonholed as a museum in our industrial classification scheme that nonetheless requires the services of a curator.

The occupation of museum technicians and conservators showed 69 employees in Oregon in 2010, with 27 of them employed in the museum industry. In the case of archivists, there were 51 in Oregon in 2010, eight of whom were employed by private-sector museums.

Museums, historical sites, and similar institutions employ more women than men in Oregon, or at least they did as of the second quarter of 2012. The workforce split ran about 60 percent female and 40 percent male. By age, the largest 10-year increment in the museums-and-related workforce was those 25 to 34 years old.

Table 1
Museums, Historical Sites, and Similar Institutions
Top 10 Occupations
Occupation 2010 Employment
Cashiers 82
Self-enrichment education teachers 77
Janitors and cleaners 61
Curators 58
General maintenance and repair workers 52
Nonfarm animal caretakers 49
Ushers, lobby attendants, and ticket takers 49
General and operations managers 47
Tour guides and escorts 45
Security guards 43
Industry Earnings Are Middling
The leisure and hospitality industry - of which museums are a part - is a notoriously low-paying segment of the economy. In 2012, the average leisure and hospitality job in Oregon paid $17,966, compared with an average annual pay of $44,273 across all industries. An abundance of part-time jobs at food service establishments partially explains the gap between those two figures.

Relative to its larger industry sector, museums offer better-than-average wages. With average yearly pay of $25,693, no one should mistake a museum job for, say, a job in a semiconductor factory (average annual pay = $124,405). But the $25,693 average pay figure for museums exceeds the broader leisure industry's $17,966 average by more than 40 percent.

At the occupational level, our wage data suggest that curators earn an average of $47,562 per year, archivists earn an average of $46,546 per year, and museum technicians and conservators earn an average of $37,128 per year. That's only if such workers put in full-time hours, though. A number of people in these occupations work on a part-time basis.

Museums Follow Leisure Employment Patterns
Employment in Oregon's leisure and hospitality businesses follows a somewhat predictable pattern of summer highs and winter lows. For example, in 2012, August leisure and hospitality employment - the high point for the year - was about 13 percent greater than January employment, which was the low point for the year.

Museum employment mimics that trend. Actually, the seasonality at museums, at least in 2012, was even more pronounced (Graph 3). Peak employment in July 2012 was about 22 percent larger than January 2012's low for the year. For the sake of consistency with the prior paragraph, if one used the August-to-January comparison instead, things wouldn't change much. August 2012 employment measured about 21 percent larger than January 2012, still returning greater seasonality in the museum subsector of the leisure and hospitality industry.

Graph 3
Museum employment peaks in the summer 2012 Oregon data
Closing Time
With an annual average of about 1,200 workers, museums are not an Oregon employment juggernaut. Even so, the industry reached record-high employment levels in 2012, adding jobs at a faster pace than the economy as a whole over the past two years.

Some of those jobs are common ones, while others are comparatively unique to the industry. And there's a good chance one of these special places is somewhere near you.