Youth Employment in Northwest Oregon

by Erik Knoder

September 11, 2020

The number of teenagers working in Northwest Oregon has fallen by 36 percent since its peak in 1996, but it increased by 862 (57%) from 2012 to 2019. The Census Bureau estimates that there were 3,737 youth from ages 14 through 18 working in Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties in 1996. By 2012, during the Great Recession, the number fell to 1,520. As the economy improved, youth returned to the workforce. In 2019 an estimated 2,382 youth ages 14 through 18 were working in Northwest Oregon. Figures for 2020 are not yet available, but it is likely that the number of youth employed has dropped dramatically during the pandemic. Not only has employment decreased in general but it has 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 since then. Three counties did have small declines in 2019, but the region as a whole added young workers. Columbia County has seen the largest percentage gain (+91%) in youth employment since 2012 and Lincoln County has had the smallest gain (+32%) from its low point in 2012. Youth employment statewide grew 69 percent 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 2019 at 10 percent and 12 percent, respectively. Clatsop, Tillamook, and Lincoln counties had working-youth-to-population ratios of 26 percent, 21 percent, and 23 percent.

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 provide about one-fourth of all payroll jobs in Lincoln and Clatsop counties in 2019 and 16 percent of payroll jobs in Tillamook County. Tillamook County also has an unusually high percentage (26%) of its youth that worked in manufacturing in 2019, and the county happens to be the home of the Tillamook Cheese Factory.

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 has likely led to another sharp reduction in youth employment that will improve only as the overall economy does.

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