Double, Double Toil and… Job Change? Job Stability and Instability in Oregon

by Erik Knoder and Barbara Peniston

June 29, 2017

Beneath the smooth surface of seven years of growing employment, Oregon’s job market has been churning like a witch’s cauldron. In a typical quarter about 30 percent of Oregon’s workers are in jobs that are considered not stable – they either recently began or will soon end. From the fourth quarter of 2015 through the third quarter of 2016 (the most recent data), an average of 525,035 people per quarter had jobs that were either new or ending (or both!) during the quarter they were counted. Adding to the mix is that job stability varies with the industry and time of year. A close look at the data shows that working Oregonians switch employers, industries, and careers with surprising frequency.

Industries

The natural resources and mining industry clearly had the smallest share of stable jobs. This sector includes such seasonal industries as farming, fishing, and logging. Fewer than half of the jobs in the industry are stable. A job is counted as stable during a quarter if the employee also worked at least part of the previous and following quarters for the same employer. If this is the case, then the assumption is made that the employee worked all the reference quarter at the same job.
Leisure and hospitality is another seasonal industry, and it had the second-lowest share of stable jobs, with about 60 percent of its jobs being stable in an average quarter. Manufacturing had the highest share (82%) of stable jobs. Most manufacturing is usually done indoors, it often pays well and offers benefits, and requires skilled workers. This gives employers and employees alike reasons to maintain steady employment.

Wages and Hours

Stable jobs pay higher wages. In the summer quarter of 2016, stable jobs paid a median wage of $20 per hour; not stable jobs paid a median of $12.89 per hour. The median wage is the wage of the middle, or typical, worker. The smallest percent difference in wages between stable and not stable jobs was within the natural resources and mining industry (16.8%). Perhaps expectedly, this industry also had the smallest (37.3%) percentage of stable jobs that quarter. The largest percent difference in hourly wages between stable and not stable jobs was in professional and business services (87.4%). 
The hourly wage difference between stable and not stable jobs is not easily understood. There are many factors, such as occupation, education, productivity, and skills, each of which may or may not be related to job stability, that more directly determine a worker’s hourly wage. For example, within the professional and business services industry a hotel manager with a stable (e.g., year-long) job would probably earn a much higher hourly wage than a housekeeper hired for the summer only.

Employees in stable jobs also worked more hours. Those with stable jobs worked a median of 488 hours during the summer quarter of 2016; those with not stable jobs worked a median of only 150 hours. Keep in mind that some of the latter employees probably worked only part of the summer quarter – that’s part of the definition of a job that’s not stable.

Seasonality

Job stability varies by season in Oregon. People who are employed during the winter are more likely to have stable jobs that employ them in other quarters as well. Conversely, seasonal jobs are more likely to occur in the summer, so the summer sees proportionally fewer stable jobs.
There is about a 7 percentage point difference in the share of stable jobs between summer (the third quarter) and winter (the first quarter).

Although not all industries are strongly seasonal, the trend of having more stable jobs in the winter holds for essentially every major sector. But industries vary in how much seasonality is related to the stability of their jobs.

Natural resources and mining again tops the list for having the greatest range (24%) in the share of its jobs that are stable from the winter quarter to another quarter. Sixty-one percent of the industry’s jobs were stable during the winter quarter of 2016, and only 37 percent were stable during the following summer quarter. The lack of stable jobs isn’t surprising when considering that the natural resources and mining sector added nearly 48,000 jobs (about 83% growth) from the winter to the summer quarter of 2016.

Private education also had a large seasonal change in its share of stable jobs. In this case the industry reduces its workforce in the summer, not the winter. But its greatest stability still comes in the winter quarter, since people with jobs in education in the winter are likely to have those jobs in the fall and spring as well. Wholesale trade experienced the least amount of change in its job stability; it varied by 2 percentage points or less between any two quarters.

Wait, There’s More!

Looking at broad industries only misses some interesting details about job stability. Although natural resources and mining as a broad sector had the greatest seasonal variation in job stability, some specific industries had even more variation. Private-sector postal services is a small industry with a definite seasonal pattern – reaching its employment peak as Christmas approaches. As a result, its share of stable jobs ranged from 38 percent in the winter of 2015 to 82 percent in the following summer when, apparently, Santa is not hiring any elves for deliveries. This gave the industry a 44 percentage point swing in its share of stable jobs over the four quarters. Other specific industries with large ranges in their shares of stable jobs over the year included nonstore retailers (such as internet retailers), telecommunications, crop production, and private-sector social assistance.
At the other end of the scale, the credit intermediation industry (banks, credit card companies, mortgage loan companies) had only a 1 percentage point change in its share of stable jobs over the four quarters. If job stability is any indication, it seems that paying interest to borrow money is nearly as certain as death and taxes. The professional, scientific, and technical services industry also had little change (1.3 percentage points) in its share of stable jobs, as did the nonmetallic mineral product manufacturing industry (1.8 percentage points).

Seasonality is just one of several factors that influence job stability. It also varies with wages and hours worked and is likely strongly related to occupation, education, and worker skills. It may be possible that higher wages actually increase job stability, but a confirmation of that linkage is beyond the scope of this analysis. It would certainly seem to be a strategy that employers could use, as the competition for workers increases during a full-employment economy.


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