Average Wages in Mid-Valley by Education Level

by Pat O'Connor

February 1, 2018

One of the most popular posters the Oregon Employment Department’s Research Division distributes is titled “Education Pays.” It is a straight forward chart, showing that average earnings increase for workers with higher levels of education. The chart can be found at high schools around the state as a reminder to students of the higher earnings an education can provide.

This article’s graph replicates the “Education Pays” poster for the local area, showing the average monthly earnings of workers in the Mid-Valley by education level. Similar to what we find statewide in Oregon, on average workers with more formal education have higher earnings than workers with less formal education. The average monthly earnings across all education levels in Oregon were $4,316 in the third quarter of 2016; that compares with $3,661 in the Mid-Valley. The largest gap comparing statewide and Mid-Valley earnings by education was for workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Statewide, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher earned $6,321 a month compared with $4,935 in the Mid-Valley.    
Workers younger than 25 are not counted in the educational attainment data. The reason the U.S. Census Bureau only includes workers ages 25 and older in the education attainment data is because that at 25, most people have completed their formal education.

Earnings Vary by Industry

The graph shows the average earnings by educational attainment across all industries, but earnings can vary substantially between industries. The table provides an industry level look at how earnings vary by educational attainment. The cells highlighted in red are those with average monthly earnings greater than $3,661, the Mid-Valley’s average earnings across all sectors and all education levels.    

The column on the right side has the earnings of workers ages 24 and younger. These young workers consistently earn less than their more experienced counterparts ages 25 and older. For young workers in the Mid-Valley, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction; construction; and utilities are the three industries with the highest average monthly earnings. Those three industries account for only 5 percent of the jobs held by younger workers in the area. Accommodation and food services, retail trade, and health care and social assistance account for 52 percent of the jobs held by workers ages 24 and younger in the Mid-Valley.     
The utilities industry in the Mid-Valley, with average monthly earnings of $6,774, has the highest average earnings across all industries. That is also true across at nearly all levels of educational attainment: workers with less than a high school diploma in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction earn more than their counterparts in the utility sector. Some of the most common occupations within the utilities industry are electrical power-line installers and repairers; water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators; electrical engineers; control and valve installers and repairers; and plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters. A little less than 700 people are employed in the utilities industry in the Mid-Valley, accounting for less than 0.5 percent of the area’s total employment.  

The industry in the Mid-Valley reporting the lowest average monthly earnings was accommodation and food services. This is an industry where our “Education Pays” poster doesn’t quite seem to hold true. All of the workers age 25 and older in accommodation and food services have similar average monthly earnings for all levels of educational attainment, ranging from $1,815 to $2,042.

The Mid-Valley’s younger workers (ages 24 and younger) in accommodation and food services had average monthly earnings of $1,247 in 2016, less than their older co-workers in the industry. These younger workers accounted for 34 percent of the jobs held in accommodation and food services. The share of young workers holding jobs in accommodation and food services has been on a long-term decline the past 20 years. In 1996, nearly half (47%) of the accommodation and food services jobs in the Mid-

Valley were held by workers ages 24 and younger. The share of young workers in accommodation and food services actually bottomed out in the wake of the Great Recession in 2011 and 2012, when only 31 of the industry’s jobs were held by younger workers. In 2015 and 2016, we have seen an uptick in the share of young workers in accommodation and food services, in particular among teenagers. Hopefully the recent uptick is a sign of a healthier labor market where older workers leave the industry to pursue career advancement opportunities and younger job seekers get the opportunity to be part of the workforce.

Overall, workers with higher educational attainment earn more on average than workers with lower levels of education in the Mid-Valley. But averages are just that, averages. Earnings vary greatly depending on the industry. “The devil is in the details” is another way to say that. Workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education had average monthly earnings of $4,935 in the Mid-Valley in 2016. However, in seven of the 20 industries listed in the table the average monthly earnings for workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher were less than $3,661, the average monthly earnings across all industries and education levels in the Mid-Valley.


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