Fourth Quarter 2019: Jobs Increase and Median Wage Rises

by Erik Knoder

July 15, 2020

Oregon’s employers reported a total of 2,203,989 jobs during the fourth quarter of 2019 (October, November, and December). This was down from the seasonal peak in the previous quarter but continued a general upward trend in employment that began in 2010. It was an increase of about 38,000 jobs over the fourth quarter in 2018. The median (middle) wage of all non-federal jobs was $21.02 per hour during the fourth quarter 2019, which was $0.65 per hour higher than the previous quarter.

Why the rise in median wage? It was largely due to the decrease in lower-wage jobs, especially those paying $10 to $15 per hour, and in increase in higher wage jobs, mainly those that paid $30 to $50 per hour. Part of this shift to higher wage jobs was probably due to the end of many seasonal summer jobs that tend to pay lower wages. For example, the leisure and hospitality sector shed nearly 16,000 jobs from the third to fourth quarter, and the natural resources and mining sector, which includes agriculture, cut about 31,000 jobs. Both of these industries tend to pay low wages. Another reason was the tight labor market that continued during the fourth quarter. That part was good news for Oregon’s economy. In addition to losing some lower-wage jobs, Oregon added jobs in every wage group above $30 per hour.

The largest gains in jobs came from local government followed by professional and business services. Local government includes schools, which often cut back on staff over the summer and expand to full strength in the fall. Local government gained a total of 11,761 jobs. Professional and business services includes legal offices, advertising agencies, and waste management firms among others. The sector added 7,316 jobs in the fourth quarter. Some other industries had notable employment changes in the fourth quarter: manufacturing cut 8,172 jobs; transportation, warehousing, and utilities added 6,642 jobs; and construction cut 5,245 jobs.

The impact of measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic will probably not be evident in this data until the second quarter of 2020. The initial employment estimates for 2020 are still showing job growth through March. The drastic jobs cuts didn’t occur until April 2020, which is the beginning of the second quarter.

July 1, 2020 produced another increase in the minimum wage which may help to raise median wages again. The third quarter 2020 could also see the addition of seasonal jobs, but it’s likely that many of the jobs lost in response to the pandemic will not be recovered by then.

To provide better data, this analysis also filters out job records that probably contain errors. Jobs that report zero hours or more than 999 hours (about 77 hours per week) worked in a quarter and jobs that paid less than the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) are excluded. Jobs that paid more than $500 per hour and reported less than 10 hours work during the quarter are also excluded.

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