Third Quarter 2020: Jobs Increase and Median Wage Falls

by Erik Knoder

April 7, 2021

Oregon’s employers reported a total of 2,041,296 jobs during the third quarter of 2020 (July, August, and September). This continued an upward trend in employment that began in the second quarter, and was an increase of almost 46,000 jobs over that quarter. The median (middle) wage of all non-federal jobs was $22.04 per hour during the third quarter, which was $0.43 per hour lower than the previous quarter.

Why the drop in median wage? It was largely due to the increase in lower-wage and middle-wage jobs and a decrease in jobs that paid $40 to $60 per hour. Part of this shift to lower wages was due to the seasonal increase in agricultural jobs and leisure and hospitality jobs. Even though the leisure and hospitality industry still had many jobs lost due to COVID-19 restrictions in the third quarter of 2020 compared with previous years, it had a seasonal increase during the summer. In addition to gaining lower-wage jobs, Oregon lost nearly 8,800 higher-wage jobs (those paying $40 to $60 per hour) from the second to the third quarter of 2020. Most of these losses came from seasonal cuts in local government. Local government includes K-12 schools, community colleges, and state universities, which often cut back on staff over the summer. In addition to local government, professional and business services and retail trade cut higher-wage jobs during the third quarter.

The impact of measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are still taking a toll on the economy. Employment in the third quarter of 2020 remained nearly 198,000 jobs below what it was during the third quarter of 2019. Almost 40% of the losses were from the leisure and hospitality industry, but almost all industries lost jobs due to the pandemic. The one significant exception was the transportation, warehousing, and utilities industry. This industry added nearly 7,000 jobs by the third quarter of 2020 from the previous year. The rapid increase in e-commerce has been a boon for transportation and warehousing jobs.

Although wage data are not yet available for 2021, it seems that the number of jobs is continuing to increase. Sample-based estimates show job gains in early 2021, the number of jobs listed with the Oregon Employment Department in the Portland area took a sharp jump in March, and employers are reporting difficulty in hiring all the workers they want.

To provide better data, this analysis also filters out job records that probably contain errors. Jobs that report zero hours or more than 999 hours (about 77 hours per week) worked in a quarter and jobs that paid less than the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) are excluded. Jobs that paid more than $500 per hour and reported less than 10 hours work during the quarter are also excluded.

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