People Helping People: Oregon’s Social Assistance Industry Making a Difference for Oregonians

People Helping People: Oregon’s Social Assistance Industry Making a Difference for Oregonians

by Shawna Sykes

August 29, 2016

People helping people: workers in the social assistance industry are just that. Whether you're looking for a job, counseling through a difficult time, caring for your children or elderly parent, or helping with housing or a hot meal, Oregon's social assistance providers are here to help. 

Employment in the social assistance industry in Oregon is up substantially, from nearly 48,000 in 2010 to nearly 59,000 in 2015 (up 23% in the past five years). The industry contributed over $1.5 billion in payroll statewide in 2015. About 60 percent of its employment is in the private sector and 40 percent is in government. Covered employment counts only employees who are covered by unemployment insurance. The self-employed also contribute significantly to this industry; there were 11,132 non-employer establishments in Oregon with $153 million in sales receipts in 2012 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Over One-Third of Jobs Help Elderly and Disabled

Services for the elderly and disabled make up the largest portion of the social assistance industry, with 39 percent of the industry's total covered employment in Oregon – an average of 22,845 jobs statewide in 2015. This sector includes senior citizen centers, adult foster care, Alzheimer's care facilities, senior volunteer programs, government senior and disability services agencies, and meal sites. Child day care services (11,069 jobs) and Other Individual and Family Services (11,031 jobs) have nearly equivalent employment with 19 percent of the industry's employment each. Child day care services includes private and publicly funded daycare and preschool facilities, after school programs, and resource and referral services. Other individual and family services includes marriage and family counselors, mental health and addiction services providers, sexual assault and abuse crisis services, support groups, and more.

Vocational rehabilitation services include organizations specializing in career counseling, developmental and cognitive disability services, apprenticeship and employment training programs, and occupational therapy. This group makes up about 12 percent of social assistance workers, with 7,285 jobs.

Child and youth services (3,640 jobs) round out the top five sectors in the social assistance industry, with 6 percent of the industry's employment. Although community food and housing services and emergency and other relief services do not have high concentrations of employment (3,097 jobs combined), the services they provide to Oregon residents are essential, especially during desperate times.

Private sector social assistance industry employment grew by 37 percent in the past 10 years, from 25,804 jobs in 2006 to 35,331 in 2015. During the same time period, all of Oregon's private industries combined grew by 5 percent.

Most Common Jobs

Personal care aides, who assist the elderly, convalescents, or people with disabilities with daily living activities are the most common occupation within Oregon's social assistance industry. Preschool teachers, childcare workers, social and human service assistants, and teacher assistants round out the top five most common social assistance jobs. 

The 2015 average annual wage for Oregon's social assistance industry was $25,716, just over half of the state's average across all industries of $48,320. Only one of the top 10 social assistance occupations, social and community service manager, had an average wage higher ($63,314) than the state's average wage.

Which Skills Do You Need to Work in This Industry?

Thinking about working in the social assistance industry? Working as a team member, processing records, maintaining forms and files, and applying active listening techniques are among the skills most commonly requested for social assistance industry jobs. See the list of the most common skills for additional insights into what Oregon's social assistance industry businesses are looking for in their applicants.

Karen Macfarlane was drawn to the social assistance sector because she wanted to help her community. As a Business & Employment Specialist at the Oregon Employment Department's St. Helens office, she has been helping people find jobs for nearly 15 years. She says, "Being a people person is important in this job. When a person is unemployed, they're concerned about how they're going to survive, make their next car payment, pay for food, rent, and utilities. They're usually not in a happy place in their life. Caring about those clients and giving them the help they need to find work or other assistance can make their life a little better, more bearable. It's very rewarding, knowing you've made a difference in someone's life."

Industry Projected to Grow

The social assistance industry is projected to grow by 20 percent from 2014 to 2024, adding 6,800 jobs statewide.

Over half (3,540) of the additional jobs are projected to be in the Portland Metropolitan Area counties (Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas). The balance of the growth will be spread across other regions of the state.

Though the job market has strengthened since the recession, individuals' needs for housing, food, energy, mental health, job search, and other assistance will continue. Luckily, the professionals in the social assistance industry are here to help.