Serving Up Summer Jobs

by Erik Knoder

May 9, 2022

In the five years (2015-2019) before the pandemic recession, Oregon added about 18,000 farm jobs and 35,000 nonfarm jobs from winter to summer, which made it fairly easy for teens and others to pick up a summer job. In 2020, when the pandemic recession hit, Oregon added a similar number of seasonal agricultural jobs, but the number of nonfarm jobs fell by about 144,000 from winter to summer as business restrictions and reduced traveling and socializing hammered the economy. Agricultural employment is not yet available for 2021, but the number of nonfarm jobs in 2021 increased by nearly 75,000 from winter to summer. Much of this growth was not seasonal; it was simply the economy recovering from the pandemic recession. The situation for the summer of 2022 will likely be different from either of the two preceding years. Oregon economy is continuing to recover from the pandemic recession, but the labor market is very tight. Labor supply, not lack of demand, may be the limitation to large job gains in the summer of 2022.

Industries traditionally adding many summer jobs in Oregon include agriculture, leisure and hospitality, construction, retail trade, food manufacturing, and temporary help services. Popular occupations added in the summer include farmworkers, waiters and waitresses, construction laborers, cashiers, and groundskeepers. However, some of these are the industries and occupations that were curtailed the most by COVID-19 measures. Oregon’s nonfarm employment dropped by an astounding 253,100 jobs in April 2020, a loss of 13% of all nonfarm jobs. The unemployment rate rose to a historic high of 13.3%. Many jobs have been added back since. In fact, total employment in 2022 is well above its pre-pandemic level, but the mix of employment has changed to more self-employment and less payroll employment. The summer of 2022 should see continued growth in the number of payroll jobs, and payroll employment is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year.

Summer on the Farm

Despite agriculture generating a far smaller share of jobs than it did historically, it is usually the number one industry for creating summer jobs in Oregon. Agriculture added an estimated 17,233 jobs from winter to summer (January-March versus July-September) in 2020. Agriculture provided about 57,200 jobs in the winter and 74,400 in summer 2020; this was an employment increase of nearly one-third from winter to summer. Farmworkers and laborers for crops, nurseries, and greenhouses is by far the most-common occupation in agriculture. Oregon generates about 3,200 total openings each year for this occupation. The number of total openings in a year includes those due to occupational turnover and replacement (including retirements) as well as growth of the industry. Being a farmworker requires physical strength and mobility but doesn’t require extensive education or training. Accordingly, the occupation has few barriers to entry and paid a typical wage of $14.01 per hour in 2021.

Nonfarm Industries

Almost all industries in Oregon added jobs over the past few summers before the pandemic recession, and they added many jobs during the summer of 2021. But Oregon’s economy overall was growing during these years, which makes it harder to distinguish temporary jobs that last for just the summer from the growth in permanent jobs which can also occur during the summer. Fortunately, the Oregon Employment Department and the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics calculate factors to measure how much employment usually varies from month to month in many nonfarm industries based on several years of data. These seasonal factors tell us how much we should expect employment to change each month, which we can then compare with how much employment actually changed.

Accommodation and Food Services

The nonfarm industry with the largest gain from winter to summer is usually accommodation and food services, which is part of the broader leisure and hospitality industry. The seasonal factor for this industry suggests that it should add nearly 12,700 jobs in the summer, and for the five years (2015 to 2019) prior to the pandemic recession the industry added an average of about 15,000 jobs each summer – so it was performing better than expected.

Common occupations in the industry are fast food and counter workers, waiters and waitresses, food preparation and serving workers, cooks, supervisors, bartenders, and maids and housekeeping cleaners. Industry jobs are usually plentiful. There are about 14,600 total openings per year for new fast food and counter workers alone. In 2020, it was the single most common occupation in Oregon. Wages are usually fairly low, $13.11 per hour in 2021 was the typical wage for fast food and counter workers. Many of these occupations don’t require extensive education and often just on-the-job training so they are available to many job seekers.

The employment outlook for job seekers in accommodation and food services for the summer of 2022 seems to be very good. The industry was the hardest hit of all by COVID-19 restrictions and shed nearly 87,000 jobs in April 2020, a drop of almost 50%. Now there are help-wanted signs in numerous business windows and restaurant and lodging managers now are unable to find enough workers to fill all of their positions.

Construction

Construction has had the second-largest gain in summer employment in recent years. Its seasonal factor suggests that it should add about 7,300 jobs each summer, but it has been handily beating this by adding about 10,600 jobs from winter to summer. Part of this exceptional seasonal gain is due to the addition of permanent jobs that happen in the summer; the construction industry added about 2,800 total jobs on an annual average basis in 2021.

Common occupations in construction are carpenters, laborers, electricians, plumbers and pipefitters, supervisors, office clerks, and painters. The industry is expected to need about 2,200 new carpenters and 2,100 new laborers each year in the long run. Construction occupations often require some training beyond high school. Wages are higher for most occupations compared with the leisure and hospitality industry. The typical wage for carpenters was $26.12 per hour in 2021.

The construction industry lost 8,200 jobs in April 2020, due mainly to COVID-19 restrictions. Despite those initial losses, construction lost only 1,300 jobs on an annual average basis in 2020, and by 2021 construction employment was up 1,500 jobs on an annual basis over its pre-pandemic level and at an all-time high. And the industry’s growth has continued. Construction employment was up 5,500 jobs in March 2022 compared with one year earlier.

Administrative and Waste Services

Administrative and waste services has been the number three nonfarm sector for providing summer jobs. This catch-all industry includes call centers, travel agencies, janitorial services, and trade show organizers. Crucially for summer job seekers, it also includes temporary help services (employment services), landscaping services, and, to a lesser extent, security guard and patrol services. Employment services businesses are the largest segment of this service industry. The entire administrative and waste services industry added about 7,000 jobs during the pre-recession summers. This was about 2,700 jobs more than the industry’s seasonal factors would lead us to expect, so the industry has been doing very well.

Because temporary help workers can be working in any other industry it is difficult to determine what occupations are needed by these businesses. For the rest of the administrative and waste services sector, landscapers and groundskeepers and security guards are common occupations. Oregon will need about 2,500 new landscapers and groundskeepers each year over the long run, and they typically earned $17.50 per hour in 2021. There should be about 1,400 total openings each year for new security guards. The typical wage for this occupation was $15.48 per hour in 2021.

The administrative and waste services industry shed 12,300 jobs in April 2020, about 12% of its total. Because of the variety of businesses and occupations in this industry it is difficult to make a confident estimate about its future for this summer. Much more office work is being done remotely and some of the occupations lend themselves fairly well to social distancing. The industry added 2,800 jobs from March 2021 through March 2022 so it certainly has the potential for robust growth over the summer.

Retail Trade

The final nonfarm industry well known for summer jobs is retail trade. This sector had been adding an average of 6,200 summer jobs in the years before the pandemic recession. The seasonal factor for retail trade yields an expected addition of about 4,600 jobs per summer, so retail trade employment also had been exceeding expectations. But the industry’s fortunes seemed to change in 2019. Retail trade employment fell by 1,300 jobs on an annual average basis from 2018 to 2019. Many brick and mortar retail operations have been hit hard by online vendors such as Amazon. When the pandemic hit, the industry shed nearly 28,500 jobs in one month. But, as with stories about the author Mark Twain, reports of the industry’s death were greatly exaggerated. Retail employment rebounded strongly after the pandemic recession. Employment in retail has been setting or equaling monthly highs since December 2021.

The top two occupations in this industry are, unsurprisingly, retail salesperson and cashier. We expect about 7,900 total openings per year for new retail salespeople from 2020 to 2030. It is the second most common occupation in Oregon. Typical pay was $15.11 per hour in 2021. There should be nearly 6,700 total openings for new cashiers each year; it is the number three occupation in Oregon for number of total openings each year. A typical wage for cashiers was $13.67 per hour in Oregon.

Retail trade lost many jobs in April 2020, but the job losses varied dramatically by particular sub-industries. Clothing stores had job losses of nearly 60% but food and beverage stores didn’t lose any and even added 1,300 jobs the following month. The industry as a whole is undergoing dramatic changes as more people shift to buying online, national chains have declared bankruptcy, and local stores have changed their operations to provide for safe shopping. The disruptions caused by COVID-19 measures and shoppers’ increasing use of online shopping may mean less seasonal hiring for all of retail, though larger stores, especially in grocery and building materials, may expand.

The Fewest Summer Jobs

Perhaps surprisingly, Oregon’s most seasonally variable “industry” is local government, but it is a poor target for summer-job hunters. Employment in local government falls drastically in the summer when public schools are closed and teachers and staff are on holiday. Private education has a similar pattern, low employment in the summer and higher in the winter. Education workers who want to work summers may have better luck looking outside their industry.

Other industries that are bad bets for summer hiring are religious organizations, sawmills, paper manufacturing, telecommunications, and couriers and messengers. These sectors either shed workers in the summer or have very little seasonal fluctuation in employment.

Hiring Summer Workers

The tight labor market of the pre-recession summers probably will continue in 2022. Business restrictions have mostly been lifted, but continuing cases of COVID-19, strong consumer spending, and increased self-employment will make for challenging hiring in the coming summer as payroll employment returns to pre-pandemic levels. Despite higher inflation and the war in Ukraine, most economists see continuing demand for goods and increasing demand for services, especially travel, as the country recovers from the pandemic recession.


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