You likely have seen the help wanted signs popping up at various businesses in St. Helens and across Columbia County.

Local employers are looking for summer workers.

Summer Jobs

A variety of jobs are open in Columbia County as employers prepare for the summer season.

In 2019, before the pandemic recession, Oregon added about 21,000 farm jobs and 27,000 nonfarm jobs from winter to summer, which made it fairly easy for teens and others to pick up a summer job. The situation for the summer of 2021 will likely be different in some ways as Oregon begins to reopen its economy after taking measures to reduce the impact of COVID-19.

Industries traditionally adding many summer jobs in Oregon include agriculture, leisure and hospitality, construction, retail trade, and temporary help services. Popular occupations added in the summer include farmworkers, waiters and waitresses, construction laborers, cashiers, and groundskeepers.

However, some of these are the industries and occupations that were curtailed the most by COVID-19 measures, and many are still strongly affected. Oregon’s nonfarm employment dropped by an astounding 258,100 jobs in April 2020, a loss of 13.3% of all nonfarm jobs. The unemployment rate rose to a historic high of 13.2%. Many jobs were added back during the summer of 2020. The summer of 2021 should see continued improvement in the labor market, but employment probably won’t completely return to the level of pre-recession years.

Summer on the Farm

Despite agriculture generating a far smaller share of jobs than it did historically, it is still the number one industry for creating summer jobs in Oregon. Agriculture added an estimated 21,177 jobs from winter to summer (January-March versus July-September) in 2019. This seasonal growth fell to 17,233 jobs during the pandemic of 2020. Agriculture provided about 57,200 jobs in the winter and 74,400 in summer 2020; this was an employment increase of nearly one-third from winter to summer.

Farmworkers and laborers for crops, nurseries, and greenhouses is by far the most-common occupation in agriculture. Oregon generates an estimated 4,200 total openings each year for new farmworkers. The number of total openings in a year includes those due to occupational turnover and replacement (retirement) as well as growth of the industry. Being a farmworker requires physical strength and mobility but doesn’t require extensive education or training. Accordingly, the occupation has few barriers to entry and usually pays a fairly low wage of about $13.25 per hour on average.

Nonfarm Industries

Almost all industries in Oregon added jobs over the past few summers before the pandemic recession. But Oregon’s economy overall was growing from 2011 until March 2020, which makes it harder to distinguish temporary jobs that last for just the summer from the growth in permanent jobs which can also occur during the summer. Fortunately, the Oregon Employment Department and the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics calculate factors to measure how much employment usually varies from month to month in many nonfarm industries based on several years of data. These seasonal factors tell us how much we should expect employment to change each month, which we can then compare with how much employment actually changed.

Accommodation and Food Services

The nonfarm industry with the largest gain from winter to summer is usually accommodation and food services, which is part of the broader leisure and hospitality industry. The seasonal factor for this industry suggests that it should add nearly 12,700 jobs in the summer, and for the four years (2016 to 2019) prior to the pandemic recession the industry added an average of about 14,700 jobs each summer – so it was performing just a little better than expected.

The most common occupations in the industry are waiters and waitresses, food preparation and serving workers, cooks, supervisors, bartenders, counter attendants, and maids and housekeeping cleaners. Although jobs are usually plentiful (there are about 6,900 total openings per year for new waiters and waitresses), wages are usually fairly low (about $12.70 per hour for waiters and waitresses). Many of these occupations don’t require extensive education and often just on-the-job training so they are available to many job seekers.

The employment outlook for accommodation and food services for the summer of 2021 seems to be very good. The industry was the hardest hit of all by COVID-19 restrictions and shed 88,600 jobs in April 2020, a drop of 54%. But restrictions are lifting and there are numerous reports of restaurant managers and lodging managers now stating that they are unable to find enough workers to fill all of their positions.

Construction

Construction has had the second-largest gain in summer employment in recent years. Its seasonal factor suggests that it should add about 8,000 jobs each summer, but it has been handily beating this by adding about 10,900 jobs from winter to summer. Part of this exceptional seasonal gain is due to the addition of permanent jobs that happen in the summer; the construction industry added about 4,200 total jobs on an annual average (permanent) basis in 2019.

Common occupations in construction are carpenters, laborers, electricians, plumbers and pipefitters, supervisors, office clerks, and painters. The industry is expected to need about 2,700 new carpenters and 2,300 new laborers each year in the long run, but construction occupations often require some training beyond high school. Wages are higher for most occupations compared with the leisure and hospitality industry. The average wage for carpenters is around $25 per hour.

The construction industry lost 9,300 jobs in April 2020 due mainly to COVID-19 restrictions. Despite those initial losses, the construction lost only 1,700 jobs on an annual average basis in 2020. Residential construction seems to be making a decent recovery. Employment in this part of the industry was up 300 jobs in March 2021 compared with one year earlier.

Administrative and Waste Services

Administrative and waste services has been the number three nonfarm sector for providing summer jobs. This catch-all industry includes call centers, travel agencies, janitorial services, and trade show organizers. Crucially for summer job seekers, it also includes temporary help services (employment services), landscaping services, and, to a lesser extent, security guard and patrol services. Employment services businesses are the largest segment of this service industry. The entire administrative and waste services industry added about 6,600 jobs during the pre-recession summers. This was about 600 jobs more than the industry’s seasonal factors would lead us to expect, so the industry has been doing well.

Because temporary help workers can be working in any other industry it is difficult to determine what occupations are needed by these businesses. For the rest of the administrative and waste services sector, landscapers and groundskeepers and security guards are common occupations. Oregon will need about 2,400 new landscapers and groundskeepers each year over the long run, and they earn about $16.50 per hour on average. There should be about 1,300 total openings each year for new security guards. The average wage for this occupation is about $14.50 per hour.

The administrative and waste services industry shed 13,000 jobs in April 2020, about 13% of its total. Because of the variety of businesses and occupations in this industry it is difficult to make any estimate about its future for the summer. Much more office work is being done remotely and some of the occupations lend themselves fairly well to social distancing. It may be easier to get jobs through temporary employment agencies if the overall economy continues to recover, but agencies may also have recruiting challenges.

Retail Trade

The final nonfarm industry well known for summer jobs is retail trade. This sector had been adding an average of 5,500 summer jobs. The seasonal factor for retail trade yields an expected addition of about 5,200 jobs per summer, so retail trade also had been exceeding expectations slightly, but the industry’s fortunes seemed to change in 2019. Retail trade employment fell by 1,300 jobs on an annual average basis from 2018 to 2019. Many brick and mortar retail operations have been hit hard by online vendors such as Amazon. When the pandemic hit, the industry shed nearly 29,000 jobs in one month. Many jobs have been recovered, but the most recent estimates show retail trade employment still 4,400 below its level in 2018.

The top two occupations in this industry are, unsurprisingly, retail salesperson and cashier. We expect about 8,800 total openings (including replacement openings for retirees) per year for new retail salespeople in the long run, making it the top occupation overall for number of openings. Typical pay is around $14 per hour. There should be nearly 8,200 total openings for new cashiers each year; it is the number three occupation in Oregon for number of total openings each year. Cashiers make around $13 per hour on average in Oregon.

Retail trade lost many jobs in April 2020, but the job losses varied dramatically by particular sub-industries. Clothing stores had job losses of 60% but food and beverage stores didn’t lose any and even added 1,400 jobs the following month. The industry as a whole is undergoing dramatic changes as more people shift to buying online, national chains have declared bankruptcy, and local stores have changed their operations to provide for safe shopping. The disruptions caused by COVID-19 measures and shoppers’ increasing use of online shopping probably mean less seasonal hiring for all of retail, though larger stores, especially in grocery and building materials, may expand.

The Fewest Summer Jobs

Perhaps surprisingly, Oregon’s most seasonally variable “industry” is local government, but it is a poor target for summer-job hunters. Employment in local government falls drastically in the summer when public schools are closed and teachers and staff are on holiday. Private education has a similar pattern, low employment in the summer and higher in the winter. Education workers who want to work summers may have better luck looking outside their industry.

Other industries that are bad bets for summer hiring are religious organizations, sawmills, paper manufacturing, telecommunications, and business support services. These sectors either shed workers in the summer or have very little seasonal fluctuation in employment.

Hiring Summer Workers

The tight labor market of the pre-recession summers seems to be returning in 2021. Business restrictions, continuing cases of COVID-19, reductions in school and daycare hours of operation, and overall uncertainty will make operating a business and searching for a job more challenging in the coming summer. But overall, economists are expecting, and seeing, a surge in demand for many goods and services, especially travel, as the country emerges from the pandemic. Many business, especially those in the leisure and hospitality industry, already report difficulty getting enough workers.

Erik Knoder is a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department. He may be reached at 541-351-5595.

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