Oregon’s High-Wage Workers

by Erik Knoder and Barbara Peniston

October 17, 2017

About 332,000 (15.0%) fortunate workers in Oregon earned a high wage in 2016. A high wage was defined for this study as total annual earnings of $70,000 or more. The number of high-wage workers has been increasing in Oregon. The broad industries employing the most high-wage workers have not changed much in recent years, but some of the specific industries might surprise you.
Note: Wage data are presented only for workers covered by unemployment insurance.

Which Industries Employ the Most High-Wage Workers?

All broad industries in Oregon’s private sector employed at least some high-wage workers in 2016. Employment in manufacturing has fallen since the Great Recession began, but it still employed about 52,000 workers who made $70,000 or more. That’s the second most of any industry in 2016.

Professional and business services edged out manufacturing in recent years to become the largest high-wage industry. Professional and business services is a diverse industry that includes legal, engineering, and scientific businesses as well as waste hauling, employment agencies, and janitorial services. It benefits from industrial specialization and contracting for services.
Health care and social assistance had the third most high-wage workers, about 46,000 of them. This industry includes hospitals and medical offices. The industry had strong growth even through the recession, and many occupations require advanced education and training.

Together these three broad industries employed more than half of all Oregon high-wage private-sector workers in 2016. These three broad industries also employed nearly two-thirds of all private-sector Oregon workers making more than $140,000, the highest-wage workers.

Earnings vary considerably within some broad industries. For example, four industries within the manufacturing sector – semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing; computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing; aerospace product and parts manufacturing; and pulp, paper, and paperboard mills – all had 45 percent or more of their workers making high wages. At the other end of manufacturing is sugar and confectionery product manufacturing, which had fewer than 2 percent of its workers making high wages, and an average wage of around $26,500 per year.

Other specific industries with a relatively large fraction of high-wage workers were pipeline transportation, computer manufacturing, and utilities. Two specific industries in the top group that might be characterized as white-collar, knowledge-based industries were the administration of economic programs and management of companies. Clearly, industries that make and move goods and resources and industries that require specialized knowledge are important sources for high-wage jobs in Oregon.
Other High-Wage Industries

Construction, finance, and wholesale trade also had good numbers of high-wage workers, but the industries themselves are smaller than manufacturing and other leaders, so their total number of high-wage workers is smaller. The information industry is a classic case of this effect. About 38 percent of its workers were in the high-wage category, but it is not a large industry, so it had about the same number of high-wage workers in total that retail trade did in 2016. The high wages associated with big software firms and high finance are certainly true; Oregon just doesn’t have many of these firms.

High-Wage Worker Counts over Time

The number of workers in Oregon earning $70,000 or more (adjusted for inflation to 2016 dollars) has increased over time. In 2001, there were about 239,000 workers in Oregon making $70,000 or more. By 2006, the figure had increased to about 279,000. The Great Recession put downward pressure on wages and bonuses and held that number roughly constant for 2011, but by 2016 it had risen to 332,000.
The number of very-high-wage workers has been increasing as well. There were nearly 41,000 people making more than $140,000 per year in 2001. By 2016 the number had risen to 67,000.

The share of workers earning a wage of $70,000 or more also rose steadily from 2001 to 2016 – from 12 percent of workers to 15 percent. The share of very-high-wage workers rose from 2 percent to 3 percent over those years. 

Although the increase in high-wage workers is good news for those workers, it doesn’t mean that all Oregonians are destined for high-wage jobs. The increase in high-wage jobs is just part of the story (albeit the happy part) of increasing wage inequality in Oregon. Go to QualityInfo.org and search for wage inequality to learn more about changing wages in Oregon.

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