Show Me the Money! Oregon’s High-Wage Occupations

by Kale Donnelly

November 19, 2018

When searching for the right job, the typical jobseeker will ensure that an employer’s criteria match their own checklist – the job’s location, its responsibilities, upward mobility within the company, as well as the education and experience required. But, the question on everyone’s mind is, “What does the job pay?” Deservedly so, because we as Oregonians typically work in order to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. Since a heftier paycheck more than likely leads to a more comfortable lifestyle, high-paying jobs are usually met with a fairly competitive pool of candidates. Let’s take a look at some key characteristics of these jobs considered to be “high wage.”

What Is High-Wage?

Occupations considered to be high-wage pay more than an annual salary of $39,707, the 2018 statewide median wage. Of 805 occupation classifications, 522 are technically considered high-wage. This is merely based off of the median wage for each occupation, but it doesn’t really address how many jobs within that occupation pay above or below that median wage. Out of the 2 million plus jobs in Oregon in 2017, half were earning more than that $19.09 figure. But, what does it take to qualify for one of these high-paying jobs?

Post-Secondary Education or Training Is Your Ticket to Higher Wages

Conventional wisdom and societal norms tell us that big paychecks are usually a result of more education or training – the higher the degree, the higher the pay – yet that’s not entirely true. In Oregon, 29 percent of high-wage jobs can possibly be filled by those with a high school diploma or less. Keep in mind, these are the typical entry-level, or minimum educational requirements to fill the position. When considering the competitive education levels for high-wage occupations, there’s a stark contrast in the numbers. We find that 93 percent of these high-wage jobs require some form of postsecondary education or training, while 7 percent require a high school diploma. Job candidates that meet the typical entry-level requirements may get their foot in the door in a job interview. For most jobs, competitive candidates have more than a high school diploma.
Attending a college or a university isn’t the only avenue to obtaining higher earning potential. Taking part in technical, vocational, or any other type of postsecondary training can also greatly increase your chances of earning a larger paycheck. Overall, the acquisition of knowledge, experience, and applicable skills are just as important as education. The combination of all four will help jobseekers secure a competitive advantage in today’s economy.

High-Wage Jobs by Occupation Group

High-wage jobs are woven within every single occupational group and industry in the state. The share of high-wage earning jobs in each occupational group sits on a fairly wide scale – ranging anywhere from 1 to 100 percent of their total employment levels of 2017.
These numbers echo the narrative of the education requirements above, because the occupational groups with the largest share of high-wage jobs also have the greatest share of jobs that require some form of postsecondary training or education.

Nearly 1 million of the 2.7 million projected job openings in Oregon by year 2027 will be in high-wage occupations. These figures account for openings due to economic growth, as well as replacement openings due to retirements or major occupational changes. These high-wage openings are opportunities available to anyone with the qualifications to move into a new role, whether they are currently employed or not.

Given the tight labor market and overall high demand for labor, it’s possible that employers may start to loosen the educational or experience requirements for some of these projected job openings in the foreseeable future. Our 2017 annual job vacancy survey results show a lower share of vacancies requiring education beyond high school than our 2010 survey results. While businesses were able to “upskill” their job openings amidst the Great Recession in order to easily filter out the waves of candidates, they may not be able to afford to do the same today.

The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis (OEA) recently performed an analysis to attempt to answer the question: are employers relaxing their job requirements in order to attract the talent they desperately need? The data to try and answer this question is fairly limited, but the OEA shows that the share of new hires with a Bachelor’s degree or more has declined across many of Oregon’s employment sectors from 2010 to 2017. While the available data doesn’t perfectly answer the question, it appears as though employers might be adapting to Oregon’s smaller pool of available labor.


Workers with some amount of postsecondary education or training are much more likely to obtain a high-wage position in Oregon. Those considering their options for future employment should also consider the sectors with the greatest chance of offering a high-wage position, as well as the education and experience required. With possible signs of employers loosening requirements for positions, it may appear as though the need for higher education or advanced training may be slightly overstated. Regardless, chance always favors the prepared in the long run. With many determined folks vying for that high-wage opening you have your own sights set on, will you be prepared?

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