Record Vacancies and Difficulty Filling Them

by Gail Krumenauer

October 31, 2017

Private businesses in Oregon reported 66,600 job vacancies this summer. That’s the largest number recorded since the quarterly Oregon Job Vacancy Survey began in 2013. Meanwhile, the state’s unemployment rate remained near record lows, ranging from 3.8 percent to 4.2 percent during the summer months. The combination of strong hiring demand and a relatively small pool of unemployed persons has contributed to record difficulty filling job vacancies in Oregon.
Strong Hiring Demand

Employers have ramped up hiring demand as the economic recovery accelerated in recent years. At any given time in 2013, businesses reported 32,600 job vacancies. That number doubled to 65,400 job openings at any given time in the first nine months of 2017.

As the number of job vacancies has increased, so has the share businesses identified as difficult to fill. Each year, the share of difficult-to-fill vacancies has ticked up by 3 to 6 percentage points. While businesses reported challenges filling slightly less than half of all job openings in 2013, by 2017 they faced difficulty filling two-thirds of them.

Characteristics of Vacancies Lacking Applicants

Since 2014, businesses have most commonly cited a lack of applicants as the primary reason for difficulty filling vacancies. A few years ago, roughly 6,600 (30%) of all difficult-to-fill vacancies had too few applicants. Those job openings tended to pay about $2 per hour less than all difficult-to-fill vacancies, and a lower share required education beyond high school (15%) compared with all hard-to-fill vacancies (24%).

So far in 2017, the share of vacancies lacking applicants accounts for nearly the same share of difficult-to-fill vacancies, at 34 percent of the total. Yet that share represents a much-larger 14,300 total vacancies with too few applicants at any given time in Oregon. Vacancies with a lack of applicants now pay roughly the same average wage ($17.29) as all difficult-to-fill vacancies ($17.43). Shares requiring education beyond high school are also comparable, at 28 percent for vacancies lacking applicants, and 26 percent for all hard-to-fill job openings.

Construction and Health Care Impacts

Increased wages and educational attainment for vacancies with a lack of applicants can be attributed to activity in construction and health care. Amid rapid employment growth, the number of construction vacancies with a lack of applicants increased nearly tenfold over the past few years. Inflation-adjusted wages for construction vacancies with a lack of applicants rose by more than $5.50 per hour, driven by shortages in skilled trades and increased hiring demand for construction supervisors and managers.
Health care remains a large and steadily growing sector in Oregon. The industry’s vacancies nearly doubled from 2014 to 2017, and had the largest number of job openings lacking applicants of any industry. An increase in the lack of applicants for health care practitioners, along with more demand for health care support occupations with postsecondary requirements, boosted the share of these vacancies requiring more than a high school diploma.

Other sectors have contributed to the gains as well. In particular, the widespread lack of applicants – and increased business competition to fill job openings – across many sectors helped boost the inflation-adjusted average wage for job vacancies by about $2.50 per hour from 2014 to 2017.

More Information

The Employment Department publishes quarterly summaries of job vacancies in Oregon, and a full report on difficult-to-fill vacancies, on the publications page of

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