African Americans in the Oregon Workforce

by Shawna Sykes

February 13, 2019

According to U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey estimates, there are about 124,365 residents of Oregon who identify as Black or African American, or about 3 percent of Oregon’s population. Of those residents, about 83,722 are age 16 and over, and of those about 64 percent are in the Oregon labor force.
In the past 20 years, the number of Oregon workers identifying as African American alone has grown by 75 percent, from 27,986 in 1998 to 49,029 in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Quarterly Workforce Indicators data. This is a much faster growth rate than for the Oregon workforce overall (25%). However, the growth rate was even larger for Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders (107%), those identifying as two or more race groups (93%), and Asians (91%).

Top Industries Are Educational Services, Health Care, and Social Assistance

More than half of black workers statewide are employed in one of three sectors: educational services, health care, and social assistance (28%); retail trade (12%); or manufacturing (11%).
Another one-fourth of Oregon’s African Americans work in arts, entertainment, accommodation and food services (11%); professional, scientific, management, administrative, and waste management services (7%); or transportation, warehousing, and utilities (7%). The remaining balance are spread across other sectors.

Men and Women Are Concentrated in Different Occupations

Ninety-four percent of Oregon’s African American women are employed in one of three occupational groups: management, business, science and arts occupations (37%); service jobs (32%); and sales and office jobs (25%).
African American men are spread more evenly across the five occupational groups. The largest share of black men are employed in management, business, science, and arts occupations (29%), followed by production, transportation, and material moving jobs (26%). Significant shares also work in sales and office jobs (21%), and service occupations (17%). Natural resources, construction, and maintenance jobs employ the smallest shares of both black men (8%) and women (1%).

Three Out of 10 African Americans Have a Bachelor’s Degree or Higher Education

About 17 percent of Oregon African Americans age 25 or older have a Bachelor’s degree, below the share statewide (21%). Another 12 percent of black residents have a graduate or professional degree, slightly below the overall statewide share (13%).

Another 37 percent of Oregon’s black residents over 25 have some college or an associate’s degree, a larger share than Oregon statewide (34%). African Americans also have a slightly larger share of population with less than a high school diploma, at 12 percent versus 9 percent of Oregonians statewide.
African Americans Have Third Highest Monthly Earnings

Average monthly earnings for Oregonians statewide in 2017 was $4,355. Asian residents had the highest average monthly earnings at $5,332, followed by white residents at $4,369. African Americans earnings averaged $3,635 monthly, 83 percent of the average statewide.

Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders ($3,231), and American Indian or Alaska Natives ($3,122) had the lowest monthly earnings statewide.
Larger Share of Government, Smaller Shares of Self-Employed and Private-Sector Employment

According to Census estimates, nearly 78 percent of black workers in Oregon worked as employees in private-sector businesses. Another 17 percent worked for government entities (local, state, and federal). This is a larger share than Oregonians statewide (13%).

Self-employment is less common among Oregon’s black residents, with only 5 percent working in their own unincorporated business. But Dr. Robert James, a Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine, has been self-employed for many years now. Formerly the President and Founder of the Chicago Academy of Pain Management and Rehabilitation, he now operates James Chiropractic Spine and Joint Center in Warrenton. Injured while serving in the military in South Korea, James became interested in chiropractic care when he sought treatment for his pain. After undergraduate studies in Chicago and medical school in Georgia, he returned to Chicago to start his medical career. Originally from the Norfolk, Virginia area near Chesapeake Bay, Dr. James found a lot of similarities along the North Oregon Coast where the Columbia River meets the ocean. After spending about 10 years vacationing in Oregon, James decided to relocate here. He enjoys the small town feel. “I’ve seen a lot of the world, but there is nothing like the Oregon Coast. The people here have been very welcoming.” 

When asked what kind of advice he’d give to someone considering starting their own business, he says, “Find something you love to do. Ask yourself, would you do it for nothing?” He says that’s the test. “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Black Population Younger Than Balance of State

The median age of black Oregonians is 25.7 years, which is much, much younger than Oregonians as a whole with a median age of 39.3 years old.
A much larger share of Oregon’s black population (36%) is under 18 years old than Oregon’s overall population (22%). Another 14 percent are 18 to 24 years old, and likely just entering the workforce. Conversely, a much smaller share of Oregon’s black residents are 55 or over (15%) versus Oregon residents statewide (30%).

Small but Mighty

Though only a small share of the state’s workforce, Oregon’s African American workforce has grown quickly over the last 20 years. As the state grows, diversity is seeing a welcome increase, too. Oregon needs an influx of young adults to help offset the exodus of retirees across all occupations and industries, and growth in Oregon’s African American population will help to meet those future needs.


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