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Small Industry, Big Impact - Religious Organizations in Oregon
by Ainoura Oussenbec
Published Apr-22-2014

 
In 2012, there were 2,919 religious organizations with 16,359 jobs in Oregon, according to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. The payroll employment in religious organizations comprised about 1 percent of total employment in Oregon.

Oregon's religious organizations are typically small employers, with average employment of fewer than six employees per organization. Unlike other private industries, religious organizations operate under a not-for-profit status, with the mission to serve members, the community and beyond. Religious organizations usually function as hubs of significant volunteer involvement with a wide variety of services, in addition to providing jobs.

Low Wages, Anemic Employment Growth
 
The annual average wage in Oregon's religious organizations was $20,415 - less than half of the average pay for all industries, which was $44,229 in 2012. Only a small number of Oregon's industries - such as leisure and hospitality, gasoline stations, and clothing and clothing accessories stores - had a lower average annual pay. The industries with such low average pay tend to have a high percentage of part time jobs or minimum wage jobs.

Between 2002 and 2012, the number of jobs in religious organizations increased by only 180 statewide or about 1 percent. During the same time, Oregon's total employment increased by more than 70,000 jobs, or 4.5 percent. While many industries experienced fast growth and then dramatic declines during the Great Recession, employment in religious organizations did not fluctuate much in recent years.

Oregonians Support Their Religious Organizations
 
In a Gallup poll in 2009, Oregon was ranked number one in the U.S. with the highest percent of residents, almost 25 percent, unaffiliated with any religion. Christianity was the stated religious preference of around 70 percent of Oregonians. Though other religions did not have many supporters in the Gallup Poll, a wide variety of religions and religious groups were represented in Oregon.

Pastor Christopher White of the Trail Christian Fellowship in Eagle Point believes that religious Oregonians strongly support their respective churches and religious groups. Historically the West Coast states developed many different choices when it comes to Christian organizations, while the East Coast and Southern communities have more concentrated traditional and established religious organizations. In the traditional communities, belonging to a church is part of living there or part of the culture, while in the West people tend to choose religious organizations based on their personal preferences. In addition, the Western states' citizens seem to start their own religious groups and churches more easily, hence the variety of religious organizations. When people choose their place of worship they tend to be more involved and committed, believes Pastor Chris. Such religious organizations manage to attract members well outside of their immediate neighborhood and from varied cultural backgrounds.

The Trail Christian Fellowship, for instance, grew from a handful of persons meeting in someone's living room to nearly 1,500 current members from all over the Rogue Valley. The organization employs 25 persons, from office and accounting, which is typical for religious organizations, to a full time IT (Information Technologies) professional, according to Pastor Chris. While most religious organizations are usually involved in outreach efforts, thanks to the Internet the outreach to other communities and even countries is not only possible today but increasing in importance, as is the case for the Trail Church in Eagle Point. This nondenominational organization alone provides services to more than 50 countries, keeping its IT professional very busy.

The Uncounted Workforce: Volunteers
 
According to the National Community Service Corporation (NCOC), Oregon was 11th in the nation in 2012 in percentage of citizens - 34 percent or more than 1 million - who volunteered. These Oregonians provided 161 million hours and more than $3 billion in services. About 26 percent, equaling 286,000 volunteers, gave their time for religious organizations, providing more than $800 million in services.

The Eagle Point Trail Fellowship is no exception. The Trail volunteer force is the key in how the Fellowship is working toward its mission and goals, offering a wide variety of services inside the organization and to the community at large. The members regularly provide unpaid work in the following occupational categories: administrative; social services, especially counseling; alcohol and drug rehabilitation; health care; and food services. The Trail Fellowship volunteer activities are estimated at an equivalent of 100 full-time, year-round jobs.

Impacts Beyond the Numbers
 
Employment in Oregon's religious organizations is small, and the job opportunities have not increased significantly in recent years. Beyond jobs, however, religious organizations deploy huge volunteer efforts, directed to serve local communities where services otherwise would not be available or affordable to thousands of Oregonians.

If the volunteers for religious organizations were paid and were part of a separate industry, its payroll of more than $800 million would be close to the payroll of Oregon's wood product manufacturing industry, and significantly higher than the total payroll in the arts, entertainment, and recreation industry.

The economic impact of religious organizations may be impossible to quantify exactly, but it is easy to believe that religious organizations are important for Oregonians. In addition to offering some job opportunities, religious organizations initiate and direct extensive volunteer activities in Oregon, providing many valuable services to members and non-members alike.