2017 in Review: Portland Job Growth Moderates, No Worries

by Amy Vander Vliet

April 2, 2018

The Portland metropolitan area’s economic expansion marched on in 2017 to the tune of 2.4 percent; or 27,800 new jobs. Although this is the first year since 2013 that growth came in under 3 percent, there’s no cause for concern. We’ve moved beyond our peak growth years and settled into a more sustainable pace that’s in line with an economy at, or near, full employment. And a pace that’s typical in a mature expansion.

Surpassing Most Other Metro Areas

Portland isn’t alone. Growth also slowed nationally, statewide, and in all but six of the nation’s 50 largest metro areas. And in each of these six areas, growth trailed the nation and Portland.

Overall, Portland’s 2.4 percent growth was the 13th fastest among the nation’s major metro areas. Riverside (3.5%), Austin (3.2%), and Nashville (3.2%) grew the fastest. New Orleans ( 0.2%), Cleveland (0.2%), and Rochester (0.2%) grew the slowest.

Unemployment

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate approached historic lows, declining from 4.7 percent to 3.9 percent; just shy of the record low 3.8 percent in 1995. Underlying these numbers was a surge in the region’s labor force: roughly 35,000 people entered the workforce in 2017; the fourth largest annual increase since comparable records began back in 1990. Roughly 43,000 people found jobs, and the number of unemployed fell for the eighth consecutive year (by 8,400).

Industry Highlights

  • Construction finally returned to pre-recession levels in 2017. It also added the largest number of jobs among all broad industries (+5,100) and grew most rapidly (8.3%). Growth might have been even faster had it not been for a shortage of workers. Construction businesses in the tri-county area reported 3,000 vacancies in 2017; 13 percent of all reported vacancies and the second largest number among the region’s broad industries.
  • Health care and social assistance added the second largest number of jobs, at 4,700. About half were created in the ambulatory health services component (e.g. doctor offices, medical laboratories). Health care sees solid gains every year, even during recessions, as the metro area’s population grows and ages. This trend will likely continue in the foreseeable future.
  • Professional and business services added the fewest number of jobs since the recession. Temp help declined for the fourth consecutive year. The question here is why? Are temp workers transitioning to permanent positions without enough workers to replace them (labor shortage)? Or is this a sign of impending economic weakness as employers scale back on their temp help workforce due to uncertainty or slowing business conditions? Low unemployment and steady job growth in most other industries suggest the former.
  • Manufacturing was essentially flat (+300 jobs), making 2017 its most anemic year since the recession. Losses in high tech (-1,000), including announced layoffs at Intel, offset growth in machinery and nondurables. Despite a weak year, Portland’s manufacturing sector is just 3,500 jobs (2.8%) shy of pre-recession employment levels. In comparison, the average large metro’s manufacturing employment remains 10.9 percent below pre-recession levels, while the nation’s as a whole is 12.1 percent in the red.
  • The finance industry was hit hard by the recession and struggled in the first few years of the recovery as other industries were rebounding. It finally found solid footing in 2013 and hasn’t looked back. It gained 2,200 jobs (+3.2%) in 2017; 700 jobs away from a full recovery.

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