Youth Employment Trends in Oregon’s Leisure and Hospitality Sector

by Pat O'Connor

March 23, 2022

In the early 1990s, nearly four out of 10 workers in Oregon’s leisure and hospitality sector were younger than 25 years old. In this analysis workers ages 14 to 24 are considered youth. When people reach age 25 they are considered to be in their prime working years, which are from ages 25 to 54.

The share of youth working in leisure and hospitality began to decline in the late 1990s. That decline continued in the 2000s; that decade included two recessions.
The Early 2000s recession began in March 2001. Oregon’s annual unemployment rate went up from 5.2% in 2000 to 6.4% in 2001. The unemployment rate didn’t peak until 2003, when it reached 8.0%. The rate would not fall below 6% until 2006, when the annual unemployment rate was 5.4%.

Oregon’s annual unemployment rate then declined to 5.2% in 2007, but in December 2007 the subprime mortgage crisis marked the beginning of the Great Recession. Oregon’s job losses associated with the Great Recession didn’t hit hard until the second half of 2008. From June 2008 to February 2009, Oregon’s unemployment rate increased from 5.7% to 10.1%. Oregon’s unemployment rate remained in double-digits for the next two years, until February 2011, when it declined to 9.8%. Oregon’s unemployment rate would remain above 6% until early in 2015. From 2001 to 2015, Oregon’s annual unemployment rate was under 6% for only 3 of those 15 years.

In the 2010s in the wake of the Great Recession, the share of youth employed in leisure and hospitality continued to decline. The low point came in 2011 and 2012 when only one out of four (25%) workers were youth (ages 14-24).

The age group with the largest declining share of employment were younger workers ages 14 to 21. The share of workers ages 22 to 24 in Oregon’s leisure and hospitality sector declined slightly over the past three decades, but much of that decline actually occurred in recent years, when Oregon’s unemployment rate was at historic lows and the labor market was quite tight. During the early 2000s recession and the Great Recession the share of workers ages 22 to 24 held fairly steady in leisure and hospitality. That was not the case for younger workers, who saw shrinking employment opportunities during recessions and periods with high unemployment rates. 

Focusing in on the younger workers, there’s a big difference in the trend of workers that are ages 14 to 18 compared with workers ages 19 to 21. In the 1990s, workers ages 19 to 21 accounted for between 12% and 13% of leisure and hospitality’s workforce. Over the past two decades, the share of workers ages 19 to 21 has slipped to about 10% of the sector’s workforce.

For Oregon teens ages 14 to 18, it has been a more dramatic rollercoaster of highs and lows. In 1995, workers ages 14 to 18 marked a high point, comprising nearly one out of six (15.7%) of the workers in Oregon’s leisure and hospitality sector. That share slowly started to decline in the late 1990s and then continued a steep decline during two recessions in the 2000s and the early 2010s. The share of teens ages 14 to 18 working in leisure and hospitality finally bottomed out in the wake of the Great Recession in 2012, when only one out of 20 jobs, or 5.0% of Oregon’s leisure and hospitality jobs, were held by these younger workers. Since 2012, the share of leisure and hospitality jobs held by teens ages 14 to 18 has been increasing. The share increased from the low point of 5% in 2012 and leveled out for several years at just under 8% in 2018 and 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic the share of young workers has again shown growth, reaching 8.3% in 2020 and jumping to 9.6% in 2021. The last time 9.6% of leisure and hospitality workers in Oregon were ages 14 to 18 was back in 2007, prior to the Great Recession.
Nationally, the trend for workers ages 14 to 18 in leisure and hospitality has been similar to Oregon, but the declines during recessions were more extreme in Oregon. In 1995, 16.4% of U.S. leisure and hospitality workers were ages 14 to 18; that compared with 15.7% in Oregon. Similar to Oregon, that share declined until it also bottomed in 2011 and 2012 with only 7.9% of U.S. leisure and hospitality workers ages 14 to 18; that compared with 5.0% in Oregon in 2012. As of 2021, 12.5% of U.S. leisure and hospitality workers were ages 14 to 18; outpacing Oregon’s 9.6% share.  

With rapid employment growth and a high number of job vacancies continuing in 2022, it will be interesting to see if the share of youth employed in the leisure and hospitality sector continues to grow in what is the tightest labor market in decades. In particular it will be interesting to watch the share of teens ages 14 to 18, which has been the age group that has shown the most volatility over time both in Oregon and the U.S.


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