Fourth Quarter 2021: Oregonians at Work – Wage Gains and Job Distribution by Sector

by Gail Krumenauer and Molly Hendrickson

September 27, 2022

Oregon had 1.99 million people working in jobs covered by the state’s unemployment insurance system during the fourth quarter of 2021. They earned a total of $32.5 billion, with an average wage of about $16,325 per worker for the quarter. The median hourly pay during the quarter was $24.83.

Employment Distribution Across Sectors

Oregon experienced rapid jobs recovery in 2021. Wage records show a gain of more than 128,400 jobs, or 6%, between the fourth quarters of 2020 and 2021. However, this growth was not evenly distributed across industries. Job growth differed enough to change the distribution of jobs across sectors of Oregon’s economy over the year.

While some sectors lost jobs over the year, most had substantial growth. Nearly one-third (32%) of the large overall job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality. Leisure and hospitality grew by 41,400 jobs, and shifted from making up 9% of all jobs to 11%. Professional and business services – particularly professional and technical services – has also seen strong growth during the jobs recovery. Professional and business services grew by 24,800 jobs, and increased its share of all jobs from 13% in the fourth quarter of 2020 to 14% in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Despite overall gains, some sectors saw declines. There were small job declines in transportation, warehousing, and utilities (-1,300) and natural resources and mining (-1,500). Natural resources and mining decreased its share of all jobs between the fourth quarters of 2020 and 2021 from 4% to 3%. Health care and social assistance also decreased its share of all jobs over the year from 15% to 14%.
More Jobs Paying Higher Wages

Changes in the distribution of Oregon’s jobs was even more pronounced across wage categories. Employment moved up the pay scale over the year. Between the fourth quarters of 2020 and 2021, the number of jobs paying less than $15 per hour fell by 125,700, dropping 33%. At the same time, the number of jobs paying between $15 and $30 rose by 131,700, and those earning between $30 and $50 per hour increased by 59,300. That’s a gain of 14% in each of those categories. Jobs earning $50 per hour or more rose by 63,100, or 20%.

Employers competing to hire workers in a tight labor market put upward pressure on wages in 2021. Jobs shifting up the wage scale could also be due in part to scheduled minimum wage increases that occurred in the third quarter of 2021. On July 1, 2022 minimums rose to $14.00 per hour in the Portland urban growth boundary, $12.75 standard, and $12.00 in nonurban counties. Rising minimums could potentially push increases further up the pay scale too.

There are a few notable trends across wage categories by sector. Jobs moving out of the under $15 per hour category and into the $15 to $30 per hour category were most notable in health care and social assistance, retail trade, leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services.

In the top wage category, the biggest nominal gains between the fourth quarters of 2020 and 2021 in jobs paying at least $50 per hour occurred in professional and business services (14,400), local government (10,600), and health care and social assistance (9,400). The number of jobs paying at least $50 per hour grew by 55% in leisure and hospitality, but represented a smaller number of jobs (2,200).
Real Wage Gains in Service Sectors

Between the fourth quarters of 2020 and 2021, the Consumer Price Index measure of inflation grew by 6.7%. Yet, the overall median hourly wage in Oregon saw a slight gain over the year. After adjusting for inflation, real median hourly pay grew by $0.39 to $24.83 per hour. That was a gain of 1.6% over the year.

Eight industries saw real wage gains between the fourth quarters of 2020 and 2021. The largest gain occurred in transportation, warehousing, and utilities, which rose by 11% to $26.85 per hour. Health care and social assistance (7.2%) and leisure and hospitality (5.8%) also had notable, real increases in median hourly wages. However, wages in some industries struggled to keep pace with inflation. The largest decline occurred in private educational services, which fell by $1.61 per hour, a loss of 6.2%.
Increasing Wages and Shifting Sectors of Employment

Oregon experienced rapid jobs recovery in 2021. Changes in job growth across sectors resulted in the redistribution of jobs across some sectors of Oregon’s economy. That included a larger share of jobs in leisure and hospitality as it recovered from the largest pandemic recession losses of any sector, and a greater share of jobs in professional and business services. Between the fourth quarter of 2020 and 2021, eight broad sectors saw real wage gains. There was also a broad shift to more jobs paying higher wages, as evidenced by the increase in the median hourly wage by 1.6%, the decline of jobs paying less than $15 per hour, and even larger increases in jobs paying higher hourly wages.


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