Key indicators of the economy in St. Helens, Scappoose and across Columbia County are our jobs and wages. 

In the following guest article, Oregon Employment Department Regional Economist Erik Knoder gives us insight into jobs and wages statewide and what factors and influences we should watch.

Oregon’s employers reported a total of 1,980,967 jobs during the first quarter of 2021, January, February, and March. This was a decrease of 144,152 from the same quarter of the previous year just before the pandemic strongly affected the economy. The median (middle) wage of all non-federal jobs was $23.12 per hour during first quarter 2021, which was $1.63 per hour higher than the previous year.

Key Indicator

The decrease in lower-wage jobs, those paying less $30 per hour, and an increase in higher-wage jobs has led to the rise in median wage.

Why the rise in median wage? It was largely due to the decrease in lower-wage jobs, those paying less $30 per hour, and an increase in higher-wage jobs. Part of this shift to higher wage jobs was due to structural changes in Oregon’s economy over the past year. Most industries shed jobs over the year, but they differed in degree. Several lower-wage industries, namely leisure and hospitality and other services, lost large numbers of jobs.

In fact, those two industries alone lost more than 87,000 jobs over the year, more than a fourth of their employment. Some middle-wage industries such as manufacturing (-12,179 jobs) and professional and business services (-9,716 jobs) also lost jobs, but relatively fewer. And the jobs these middle-wage industries shed were mainly their lower-wage ones.

The only higher-wage industry to shed jobs was local government (-23,241 jobs), and this industry also mainly shed its lower-wage jobs. Another reason for the higher overall median wages was the tight labor market that prevailed as the economy continued to recover from the pandemic recession. Oregon added jobs in every wage group above $30 per hour.

One interesting outcome of the pandemic recession is the addition of 6,384 jobs to the group of the smallest employers, those with fewer than five employees. From the first quarter of 2020, before the pandemic, to the first quarter of 2021 every size class of employers lost jobs, except these smallest employers.

One possible explanation for this oddity is that many somewhat larger employers reduced their staff, and so the formerly larger employers ended up in the group of smaller employers. Although the largest employers (those with 500 or more employees) shed the most jobs (-47,761 jobs) over the year to the first quarter of 2021, employers that had 250 to 499 employees shed the largest share (-13.6%) of their jobs. In the pandemic recession, it appears that large employers were affected at least as much, if not more, than small employers.

To provide better data, this analysis also filters out job records that probably contain errors. Jobs that report zero hours or more than 999 hours (about 77 hours per week) worked in a quarter and jobs that paid less than the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) are excluded. Jobs that paid more than $500 per hour and reported less than 10 hours work during the quarter are also excluded.

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

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