Serving Up Summer Jobs

by Erik Knoder

May 27, 2020

Oregon had been adding about 19,000 farm jobs and 52,000 nonfarm private-sector jobs from winter to summer for the past three years, which made it fairly easy for teens and others to pick up a summer job. The situation for the summer of 2020 will likely be quite different as Oregon begins to reopen its economy after taking measures to reduce the impact of COVID-19. Industries traditionally adding many summer jobs in Oregon include agriculture, leisure and hospitality, construction, retail trade, and temporary help services. Popular occupations added in the summer include farmworkers, waiters and waitresses, construction laborers, cashiers, and groundskeepers. But these are the very industries and occupations being curtailed the most by COVID-19 measures. Oregon’s nonfarm employment dropped by an astounding 242,500 jobs in April 2020, a loss of 12.6 percent of all nonfarm jobs. The unemployment rate rose to a historic high of 14.2 percent. The summer of 2020 promises to be a different – and worse – labor market than in recent years.

Summer on the Farm

Despite agriculture generating a far smaller share of jobs than it did historically, it is still the number one industry for creating summer jobs in Oregon. Over the past three years agriculture added an average of 19,252 direct jobs from winter to summer (January-March versus July-September). Agriculture provided about 53,000 jobs in the winter and nearly 72,300 in summer; this was an employment increase of more than 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 an estimated 4,000 total openings each year for new farmworkers. The number of total openings in a year includes those due to occupational turnover and replacement (retirement) as well as for 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 usually pays a fairly low wage of about $13 per hour on average.

Nonfarm Industries

Almost all industries in Oregon added jobs over the past three summers. But Oregon added jobs overall from 2011 until March 2020, which makes it harder to distinguish 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 many 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.

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 16,000 jobs in the summer, and for the last three years the industry has added about 14,700 jobs each summer – so it was performing just a little worse than expected. The most common occupations in the industry are waiters and waitresses, food preparation and serving workers, cooks, supervisors, bartenders, counter attendants, and maids and housekeeping cleaners. Although jobs are usually plentiful (there are about 7,200 total openings per year for new waiters and waitresses), wages are usually fairly low (about $12 per hour for waiters and waitresses). 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 accommodation and food services for the summer of 2020 is almost completely unknown. The industry was the hardest hit of all by COVID-19 restrictions and shed 95,700 jobs in April, a drop of 54 percent. Some businesses are beginning to reopen, but others are waiting and an unknown number are closing permanently.

Construction has had the second-largest gain in summer employment in recent years. Its seasonal factor suggests that it should add about 8,700 jobs each summer, but it has been handily beating this by adding nearly 11,000 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 11,000 total jobs on an annual average (permanent) basis from 2017 through 2019. Common occupations in construction are carpenters, laborers, electricians, plumbers and pipefitters, supervisors, office clerks, and painters. The industry is expected to need about 2,500 new carpenters and 2,100 new laborers each year in the long run, but construction occupations often require some training beyond high school. Wages are higher for most occupations compared with the leisure and hospitality industry. The average wage for carpenters is around $23 per hour.

The construction industry lost nearly 10,000 jobs in April 2020 due mainly to COVID-19 restrictions. Despite this it actually had fewer jobs losses on a percentage basis when compared with overall employment. Construction, especially residential construction, could remain depressed for longer than industries that are fueled by tourism. The loss of wealth and income from business shutdowns, economic uncertainty, and possible reduced migration into Oregon may all dampen demand for housing in the state. Reduced tax revenue to the state government may prompt reductions in road building and repair, which would reduce civil construction. The outlook this summer for construction is also unknown, but it probably won’t be as expansive as in recent years.

Administrative and waste services was 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 5,900 jobs during the recent summers. This was about 700 jobs less than the industry’s seasonal factors would lead us to expect. It may be that in the tight labor market of the past few years employers were hiring more of their workers directly. Because these 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 2,100 new landscapers and groundskeepers each year over the long run, and they earn about $16 per hour on average. There should be about 1,300 total openings each year for new security guards. The average wage for this occupation is about $14 per hour.

The administrative and waste services industry shed 9,800 jobs in April 2020, about 10 percent of its total. Because of the variety of businesses and occupations in this industry it is difficult to make any estimate about its future for the summer. Much more office work is being done remotely and some of the occupations lend themselves fairly well to social distancing. It may be much harder to get jobs through temporary employment agencies if the overall economy continues to languish.

The final nonfarm industry well known for summer jobs is retail trade. This sector has been adding an average of 4,800 summer jobs over the past three years. The seasonal factor for retail trade yields an expected addition of about 5,000 jobs per summer, so retail has been nearly meeting expectations. Retail trade employment fell by 1,000 jobs on an annual average basis from 2017 to 2019. Many brick and mortar retail operations have been hit hard by online vendors such as Amazon. The top two occupations in this industry are, unsurprisingly, retail salesperson and cashier. We expect more than 10,000 total openings (including replacement openings for retirees) per year for new retail salespeople in the long run, making it the top occupation overall for number of openings. Typical pay is around $14 per hour. There should be nearly 9,000 total openings for new cashiers each year; it is the number two occupation in Oregon for number of total openings each year. Cashiers make around $12 per hour on average in Oregon.

Retail trade lost more than 21,000 jobs in April 2020, but the job losses varied dramatically by particular sub-industries. Clothing stores had job losses of 54 percent; building materials stores added a few hundred jobs. The industry as a whole is undergoing dramatic changes as more people shift to buying online, national chains have declared bankruptcy, and local stores are trying to change their operations to provide for safe shopping. The disruptions caused by COVID-19 measures and shoppers’ responses probably mean far 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 teacher 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 wood product or paper manufacturing, legal services, telecommunications, and social assistance. These sectors have very little seasonal fluctuation in employment.

Hiring Summer Workers

The tight labor market of the past few summers is unlikely to resurface in 2020. Business restrictions, closures, and overall uncertainty may well make jobs harder to find in the coming summer. Expanded and extended unemployment benefits may help many people, but there are things job seekers can do to help find work. Online job searching, networking with existing employees, and contacting businesses directly can all lead to a summer job. Job seekers can also call their local Oregon Employment WorkSource office or search online for job listings, and get assistance with writing resumes and completing job applications.


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