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Not Just a Low-Wage Recovery: Half of Portland's New Jobs Created in Industries Paying More Than $50,000
by Amy Vander Vliet
Published Aug-16-2013

It's not news that Portland was hit hard by the Great Recession. It dug a hole more than 80,000 jobs deep, and for over three years we've slowly been clawing our way out. As of the middle of 2013, the greater metro area was just a few thousand jobs shy of a complete recovery.

Headlines tout the national 'low wage recovery'. While it's true that the Portland metro area added many lower-paying jobs since the end of the recession, fast food joints and malls aren't the only ones putting out 'help wanted' signs. The housing market is rebounding and construction firms are hiring. Specialty trades (e.g., plumbers and electricians) pay upwards of $55,000 on average and they've gained 4,500 jobs in the past few years. Ambulatory care, where workers earn $63,500 in places such as medical and dentist offices, has grown by 3,400 jobs. Computer systems design ($94,700) and high-tech manufacturing ($120,200) chipped in 2,500 jobs each.

On the whole, roughly half of all jobs created since the end of the recession are in industries paying more than $50,000 annually. However, these solid gains have not quite made up for recessionary losses. We're still about 4,000 jobs away from a complete recovery in this wage class, which accounted for nearly half of the recessionary losses.

Lower-paying industries (less than $30,000) added 20,700 jobs over the past three years; about one-quarter of post-recession growth and 13,700 fewer jobs than the higher-paying group. Unlike the higher-paying group, this cluster has made a complete recovery and then some; employment is about 8,000 jobs above pre-recession levels. Population growth, 'staycations', demand for social services, and income gains contributed to growth in restaurants, social assistance, and nursing and residential care facilities.

The mid-range ($30,000-$50,000) cluster of industries account for the remaining new jobs (21,500). Employment services (i.e. temp help) and fabricated metals manufacturing have seen some of the strongest gains within this wage class, and they also saw some of the steepest losses. As with the higher-wage group, gains have not yet offset losses. The gap - 7,000 jobs - is due largely to an incomplete recovery in car dealerships, real estate and rental and leasing, and some components of manufacturing.

It's worth noting that losses and gains within each of the three wage classes have not been perfectly proportional to their size. The group of lower-wage industries made up one-quarter of the region's employment going into the recession yet accounted for just 16 percent of losses. Its share of gains (27%) was disproportionate. The mid-paying group has been the least balanced, accounting for more lost jobs than its share of employment (36% vs. 32%) and for fewer new jobs (28%). The higher-wage group was the most proportionate, accounting for 45 percent of pre-recession employment, 48 percent of recessionary losses, and 45 percent of recovery gains.

This lack of proportion is an extension of longer-term trends. In the years leading up to the recession, all three wage classes created jobs although the lower- and higher-wage industries contributed relatively more than the mid-wage cluster.

Graph 1
Job losses and gains by wage range Portland metro area
Graph 2
Share of job losses, gains, and employment by wage Portland metro area