Youth Employment in Northwest Oregon

by Erik Knoder

August 19, 2019

The number of teenagers working in Northwest Oregon has fallen by more than 38 percent since its peak in 1996, but it increased by nearly 800 (52%) from 2012 to 2018. The Census Bureau estimates that there were 3,731 youth from ages 14 through 18 working in Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties in 1996. By 2012 the number had fallen to 1,524. As the economy has improved, youth have returned to the workforce. In 2018, an estimated 2,311 youth ages 14 through 18 were working in Northwest Oregon.
Every county in Northwest Oregon showed the pattern of falling youth employment until 2011 or 2012 and increasing youth employment since then. Columbia County has seen the largest percentage gain (+60%) in youth employment since 2011, and Lincoln County has had the smallest gain (+34%) from its low point in 2012.

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 outside 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 2018 at 10 percent and 11 percent, respectively. Clatsop, Tillamook, and Lincoln counties had working-youth-to-population ratios of 25 percent, 23 percent, and 21 percent.

Why is there such a difference between the counties? There may 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 provide about 28 percent of all payroll jobs in Lincoln and Clatsop counties and 19 percent of payroll jobs in Tillamook County. Tillamook County also has an unusually high percentage (24%) of its youth working in manufacturing, and the county happens to be the home of the Tillamook Cheese Factory.

Although all age groups were hit hard by the recession a decade ago, youth especially suffered. A new generation has added to the workforce as the labor market improved, and the return of teenage workers seems to be strongly influenced by having jobs available to them.

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