Industry Employment and Wages in Northwest Oregon in 2020

by Erik Knoder

June 9, 2021

Total industry employment decreased by 7,553 jobs (-7.7%) in Northwest Oregon in 2020 from 2019 to 90,027 mainly due to the pandemic recession. This was roughly the same level of employment as in 2015 when the region recovered from the Great Recession. Even though employment fell sharply, total payroll actually increased by 0.6% to nearly $4.43 billion. Lower-wage jobs were hit harder than higher-wage jobs during the recession and labor demand remained good for many occupations.

Of course the counties and industries were impacted differently by the pandemic. Leisure and hospitality suffered the most job losses. Accordingly, Lincoln and Tillamook counties lost the most jobs proportionately. Benton and Tillamook had relatively fewer losses, and Columbia County fared fairly well due to its small leisure and hospitality industry.

Main Industries

Northwest Oregon (Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties) is home to a state university; large manufacturers of food, wood products, chemicals, and paper goods; hospitals; and a large leisure and hospitality industry based along the Columbia River and the Oregon Coast.

The leisure and hospitality sector (13,291 jobs) is typically the largest private industry in the region, but that was not the case in 2020. Severe cutbacks landed leisure and hospitality into third place. The trade, transportation, and utilities industry (14,494 jobs) and private education and health services (13,846 jobs) were the region’s two largest private sectors measured by employment in 2020. Local government, which includes public K-12 schools, community colleges, and universities, provided 16,245 jobs. Although public education usually offers stable but seasonal employment, this sector lost nearly 1,000 jobs in 2020.

The trade, transportation, and utilities industry ranges from 12% to 20% of each county’s total employment. It is relatively smaller in Benton County (dominated by Oregon State) and larger in the other counties. The sector lost a large number of jobs early in the pandemic, but also recovered fairly quickly as many retailers adapted to online sales and deliveries or customer pickup. The sector lost 628 jobs on an annual average basis in 2020 compared with the previous year.

Private-sector education and health services is relatively large in Benton County – 18% of all employment. The county is home to the Samaritan Regional Medical Center, which has links to four other hospitals. Clatsop County has two hospitals and the second-largest share of employment in this industry. Healthcare has grown steadily through past recessions, but not this time. The sector was down 244 jobs in 2020 compared with 2019.

Leisure and hospitality is most evident along the coast in Clatsop and Lincoln counties. The two counties normally have about 25% of their total employment in the leisure and hospitality sector. That share dropped a few points in 2020, and the sector shed 3,774 jobs compared with 2019. The vast majority of the losses were in accommodations and food services. Leisure and hospitality businesses are often strongly seasonal and provide many entry-level jobs and small-business opportunities. The industry serves visitors and recreational fishermen and is commonly used as a proxy for the tourism industry.

Northwest Oregon has traditionally had a strong manufacturing industry. Employment in this sector was 10,980 in 2008. Those good times came to an abrupt end late that year, as the Great Recession hit the region’s manufacturers hard and jobs were shed in wood product, paper, and electronics equipment manufacturing. Most counties regained some jobs, especially in food manufacturing. As with most sectors, manufacturing suffered job losses in the pandemic. There were 8,686 manufacturing jobs in the five counties in 2020; a loss of 508 jobs from the previous year.

It’s probably no surprise that local government, including Oregon State University (Go Beavers!), comprises 24% on Benton County’s employment. But it might surprise some readers that local government is 17% of Lincoln County’s employment, until they are told that all tribal government – including casinos, such as the one in Lincoln City – is included in local government employment. Local government shed 998 jobs in 2020, mostly due to the restrictions and closures in public education. But local government excluding education also had job losses.
The county not mentioned much so far is Tillamook County, because it had no extremely dominant or absent industry in 2020. Tillamook County takes the prize for having the most diversified economy in the region; no industry comprised more than 16% of its total employment.


Annual average wages in Northwest Oregon are typically lower than wages for the state as a whole. The statewide average wage was $59,918 in 2020 versus an average of $49,177 for the five counties in Northwest Oregon. The comparison can be slightly misleading, however. Most Oregon counties have below average wages because two populous counties, Multnomah and Washington, have much higher wages.

Although the average wage in trade, transportation, and utilities was a bit low ($36,852), lower still were wages for other services ($31,832), and leisure and hospitality ($23,275). Other services includes businesses such as beauty salons, churches, and repair shops. The low wages are partly a result of many part-time and seasonal jobs in leisure and hospitality and very small businesses in the other services industry. Many jobs in low-wage industries require only short-term, on-the-job training, so they have a relatively large supply of qualified labor available.

Production industries, such as manufacturing and construction, tend to pay higher wages than service industries, but there are some high-wage service industries. Federal government jobs paid an average wage of $70,080 in Northwest Oregon, just slightly less than manufacturing jobs ($70,647). The information industry had the highest average wage at $72,485 per year.

The table below shows annual average wages by county. The highest industry wage ($84,231) in the five counties was for manufacturing in Benton County. The lowest wage ($18,850) was in leisure and hospitality in Columbia County. Although it can be interesting to look at industry wages, it is generally more useful to analyze wages by occupation since industries typically employ a wide range of occupations and pay tends to be based more on occupation and skill than industry.
Data and Other Industries

Industry employment counts jobs generated by nonfarm businesses whose employees are covered by Oregon’s unemployment insurance (UI) program– the source of data for this article and the reason it is also called covered employment.

Sources of employment not discussed in this article include self-employment, agriculture, and fishing. Estimating employment in these industries is difficult since they are exempt from the unemployment insurance program, which provides the employment data for analyzing most industries. According to surveys by the U.S. Census Bureau, Northwest Oregon had 25,605 nonemployer business establishments in 2017. These establishments are usually sole proprietorships. The area’s agricultural employment averaged around 2,650 jobs in 2018 but was above this level at the end of the year when seasonal workers gather holly, Christmas trees, and other holiday crops. In 2019 commercial fishing provided about 300 jobs in Clatsop County, 330 in Lincoln County, and about 135 jobs in Tillamook County on an annual average basis.

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