Third Quarter 2016: Review of a Strong Economy

by Erik Knoder

April 20, 2017

Oregon employers must report total wages and hours worked for each employee covered by unemployment insurance. These quarterly records cover more than 1.9 million individuals employed in the state but don’t include roughly 200,000 self-employed workers. Past quarterly wage reports are available in the Oregonians @ Work box at

Oregon is finally enjoying the benefits of a strong economy. The unemployment rate in March 2017 was 3.8 percent, which was not only lower than the national rate it was the lowest on record for Oregon. The state is also adding jobs at a faster rate than the nation. Analysis of wage and hour records from the third quarter of 2016 provides more details on a strong economy. The total number of individuals who were working increased 3.1 percent over the 12 months to the third quarter of 2016. Total payroll increased even more, it was up 8.4 percent over the 12 months. Average wages per person increased 5.1 percent over the year to $3,929 per month.

More obscure measures of employment also show improvement. Oregon added 177,761 people to its workforce in the third quarter of 2016 who didn’t work in Oregon the previous quarter, and 67,061 of these people hadn’t worked in Oregon since at least 1990. Both measures were increases over the previous year and mean that Oregon is incorporating many new workers into the labor force. The number of people holding multiple jobs also increased in the third quarter of 2016. The numbers of workers holding two jobs and the number holding three jobs during the quarter each increased 4.5 percent compared with the previous year. The number holding four or more jobs increased 6 percent. This measure counts both workers who hold multiple jobs at once and people who change employers during the quarter. The increases indicate improvement in job availability.

Robust economic and employment growth often leads to increasing wages, and that seems to be happening in Oregon. As noted, average wages increased over the year to the third quarter of 2016. So did median wages, and they are usually more representative of a typical wage. Additionally, wages increased at all levels of wages. The lowest-paid fifth of workers had their median wage rise 5 percent over the year; the highest-paid fifth of workers had their median wage rise 5.8 percent. In fact, all wage groups had median wages that rose in the 5 to 6 percent range.

Of course some Oregon employment trends remain unchanged. The information, government, construction, wholesale trade, finance, and manufacturing industries still provided more of the higher wage jobs. Leisure and hospitality still had the lowest median wage of any industry during the third quarter of 2016. Big employers, those with more than 500 employees, paid significantly more per hour than any other sized group of employers. Big employers provided about one-third of the jobs in Oregon, but more than half of all jobs that paid more than $50 per hour. More detailed information about wages in Oregon is available in the tables.

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