Youth and Employment in Southwestern Oregon

by Annette Shelton-Tiderman

December 6, 2018

Workers under the age of 25 hold fewer jobs in Southwestern Oregon today than back in 1992. The last quarter of a century has seen many economic challenges and shocks in the counties of Southwestern Oregon. The early 1990s issued in a short recession, which repeated in 2001. Although employment levels rebounded, the crushing blows of the 2007-2009 Great Recession rained down across the landscape. The tides of the business cycle have not flowed evenly across the region’s workforce.

In 1992, older workers accounted for about 13 percent of the region’s workforce. By 2017, their share of the workforce had increased to nearly 28 percent. The mid-range, those ages 35 to 54, saw a decline from 50 percent in 1992 to not quite 42 percent by 2017. The presence of younger adults ages 22 to 34, also declined (23.1% to 19.4%), as did the share of workers ages 19 to 24 (10.4% to 9.5%). During these twenty-five years, youth ages 14 to 18 saw a notable drop in workforce presence (3.5% to 1.9%). 

As the overall population has gotten older, so has the workforce. However, population shifts alone do not appear adequate to account for the changes in the workforce. Given that nearly 28 percent of the region’s workforce is within 10 years of age 65, the typical retirement age (and over 7% are already aged 65 and above), the shrinking presence of younger workers highlights the question: “As the more mature workers age out of the workforce, who will be available to fill their shoes?”

Focusing on the Fluctuating Numbers of the Emerging Workforce

Although the decline of youth in the workforce can be attributed, in part, to increased pressures from school-related commitments and limited work opportunities, it is worth noting that in 1992, youth ages 14 to 18 made up 6.9 percent of the population and 3.5 percent of the workforce. By 2017, they accounted for 5.3 percent of the population and only 1.9 percent of the workforce. The workforce’s youthful component grew steadily from 1,896 (1992) to its peak in 2006 (2,024). First to feel the effects of the Great Recession’s onset, those aged 14 to 18 decreased until just 913 remained in the region’s workforce in 2012. During the last five years, the numbers have increased, reaching 1,237 in 2017. This is still nearly 800 fewer workers than pre-recession.

Those ages 19 to 21 have also seen a reduction in population share. They made up 2.9 percent of the population in 1992; 3.2 percent in 2001 through 2005; and declined to 2.5 percent in 2017. As the population footprint has shrunk among these post high school-aged individuals, their workforce presence has also shifted. In 1992, workers ages 19 to 21 accounted for 5 percent of the region’s workforce; this peaked in 2002 through 2004 at 5.3 percent and has continued to decline to 4.4 percent in 2017. These percentages reflect the shift from 2,698 workers in 1992 to 3,393 at the pre-recession peak for this age cohort. By the end of cascading recessionary shocks, this post high school-aged group numbered 2,436 in 2012. Although their numbers have climbed to 2,810 in 2017, this group is still nearly 585 workers below peak levels. 

The group of workers ages 22 to 24 is often seen as the leading edge of those assuming family responsibilities and community obligations. Their footprint in the region’s workforce grew from 5.3 percent (1992; 2,845 workers) to its most expansive at 5.5 percent (2005; 3,591 workers). After dropping to 2,663 in 2011, today, those aged 22 to 24 account for 5.0 percent of the workforce and number 3,194. In spite of the recovery, there are still roughly 400 fewer people ages 21 to 24 in the workforce than pre-recession.

Youth Find Employment Opportunities in Accommodation and Food Services

So, where are the employment opportunities for the region’s youth? Which industries provide the needed avenues for entry into the job market? Outside of the education and health services sector with its diverse and often well-educated and highly skilled workforce, the region’s leading sectors are the multi-faceted trade, transportation, and utilities; and leisure and hospitality arenas. These two major industry sectors are not only the largest in terms of the number of jobs, they also offer younger workers the most employment opportunities.

Accommodation and food services, accounting for 92 percent of the region’s leisure and hospitality sector, provides the most jobs for youth. Overall, those ages 14 to 24 have seen a diminishing share of jobs in the accommodation and food services industry while those aged 55 and older have increased their footprint. Employment typically peaks during the mid-to-late summer months, which would correspond to demands associated with the SW Oregon tourist season.

The youngest workers, those ages 14 to 18, currently make up 7 percent (557 jobs) of the 7,900 regional accommodation and food services jobs. On a percentage basis, these entry-level workers accounted for 13.4 percent of this industry’s employment in 1992. This increased to 16.7 percent of jobs in 1997. At the pre-recessionary peak in 2006, these youth accounted for 10.1 percent of the sector’s 8,000 jobs. As the region’s businesses shed jobs, the percentage held by the youngest segment of workers declined. By 2012, only 343 of the more than 7,100 accommodation and food service workers were ages 14 to 18 (4.8%). Although the number has grown to 557, it is nearly 260 jobs below the pre-recession peak.

Post high school-aged workers, ages 19 to 21, also find employment in accommodation and food services. Their employment footprint has been steadier than among those ages 14 to 18. In 1992, there were 586 workers (11.9 percent); by 2007, those ages 19 to 21 numbered 863 and accounted for 10.8 percent of the sector’s employment. This declined to 690 in 2014 (9.6%) and has since risen to 794 (10%). Currently, this age group is nearly back to pre-recession levels.

Those ages 22 to 24 have also more or less maintained their presence in this sector’s workforce. They grew from 415 (1992; 8.4%) to 686 (2006; 8.5%) and are currently at 641 (8.1%).

The Oregon Employment Department anticipates nearly 12,000 food preparation and serving-related job openings between 2017 and 2027. Of these, 95 percent will be replacement openings generated by departing workers. Overall, typical entry-level education for these opportunities is high school or less. Standard occupations include waiters and waitresses, food preparation workers, cooks, as well as supervisors and managers of these workers. 

Retail Trade also Provides Job Opportunities to Youth

Retail trade accounts for two out of every three jobs in the very large trade, transportation, and utilities sector. Employment typically peaks during the third and fourth quarters – months associated with increased summer tourism, school-related shopping, and holiday buying. From 1992 to 2006, the retail trade industry expanded nearly 20 percent; it then lost close to 18 percent of its employment during the Great Recession. Although the sector has seen employment increases since 2012, it is only 5.7 percent above its 1992 levels. The only age cohorts above 1992 levels are those above age 45.

Due to data constraints, employment information pertaining to those aged 14 to 18 is not as complete as for older cohorts. Even so, it appears that the youngest workers faced the same recession-related shocks as those in the accommodation and food services industry. In 1992, the youngest workers accounted for 6.2 percent (443) of retail trade workers (7,098); this peaked in 1996 with 533 workers (7.2 percent). From the mid-1990s, this cohort’s numbers and percentages steadily declined through 2012 (168 workers) when it started to slowly increase to 234 in 2017 (3.1 percent). Today, this cohort is still 44 percent below peak employment levels.

Workers ages 19 to 21 in retail trade reached peak employment in 2000 (740 workers; 9.3% of the industry’s employment). The numbers and percentages have continued to decline since that time. In seventeen years since peaking, workers ages 19 to 21 have lost one out of four jobs previously held in 2000 and numbered 558 workers in 2017.

Retail workers ages 22 to 24 accounted for 8.4 percent of the industry’s nearly 7,100 employees in 1992. They peaked in the early 2000s when they made up 7.3 percent of the workforce but slipped to 6.2 percent in 2010 (454 workers). Although nearly 12 percent below peak employment levels, this cohort currently accounts for 7.1 percent of retail trade’s workforce (531).

The Oregon Employment Department anticipates nearly 11,800 sales and related job openings between 2017 and 2027. Of these, 96 percent will be replacement openings generated by departing workers. Overall, typical entry-level education for these opportunities is high school or less, although more opportunities are available for those with additional education. Standard occupations include retail salespersons, cashiers, counter and rental clerks, as well as supervisors and managers of these workers. 

Some Final Thoughts

As younger workers have seen employment declines since 1992, both in numbers and percentages, those aged 55 and older have seen steady increases. There are currently 17,497 people aged 55 and over in the region’s workforce, as well as 38,749 workers ages 25 to 54.  However, there are only 7,241 ages 14 to 24. The Oregon Employment Department forecasts there will be 90,373 total job openings over the 10-year period. Of these, 85,631 will result from replacing incumbent workers. Understanding that an aging population means an aging workforce helps explain the many replacement openings projected for the near future. However, the fundamental question remains unanswered: “As the more mature workers age out of the workforce, who will be available to fill their shoes?”


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