Youth Employment in Northwest Oregon

by Erik Knoder

September 2, 2021

The number of teenagers working in Northwest Oregon fell by 47% from its peak in 1997 to 2020, but it increased by 431 (28%) from its low point in 2012 to 2020. The Census Bureau estimates that there were 3,644 youth from ages 14 through 18 working in Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln and Tillamook counties in 1997. By 2012 during the Great Recession the number had fallen to 1,513. As the economy improved, youth returned to the workforce. In 2019 an estimated 2,358 youth ages 14 through 18 were working in Northwest Oregon. The number of youth employed dropped sharply during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020 youth employment fell to 1,944, a drop of 18%. Not only did employment decrease in general but it dropped especially in the accommodation and food services industry and in retail trade. Both of these industries disproportionally employ youth.
Every county in Northwest Oregon showed the pattern of falling youth employment until 2011 or 2012 and generally increasing youth employment until 2018 or 2019 then a fall in 2020. Columbia County saw the largest percentage gain (+62%) in youth employment from 2012 to 2020. Lincoln County had the smallest gain (+10%) from its low point in 2012. Youth employment statewide grew 50% during the same period.

Aside from the raw number of youth workers, it would be good to know the share of the youth population that works in each county. It isn’t possible to know if the youth working in a county reside within the county or in another county since commuting data are not available by age, but it is unlikely that many people ages 14 to 18 are commuting to jobs out of their county. It is possible to compare the size of youth workforce in a county to their total population in a county, and if there is negligible commuting then this would be close to an employment-to-population ratio. Columbia and Benton counties had the smallest working-youth-to-population ratios in 2020 at 8% and 11%, respectively. Clatsop, Tillamook, and Lincoln counties had working-youth-to population ratios of 22%, 17%, and 17%, respectively.

Why is there such a difference between the counties? There seems to be more opportunity for youth in tourism-related businesses in the coastal counties and less competition from older college students. Leisure and hospitality and retail trade provided roughly 40% of all payroll jobs in Lincoln and Clatsop counties in 2020 and 26% of payroll jobs in Tillamook County.

Although all age groups were hit hard by the Great Recession, youth especially suffered. They returned to the workforce as the labor market improved, and their return seemed to be strongly influenced by having jobs available to them. The COVID-19 pandemic led to another sharp reduction in youth employment that will improve only as the overall economy does.


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