The Great Recession hit all manner of Oregon worker, but it was especially hard on middle-wage earners.
The number of jobs in that range ($35,000 to $50,000 annually in today’s dollars) plunged more than 6 percent at the start of the recession in 2007. They still haven’t returned to pre-recession levels, according to research by Josh Lehner at the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis.
In a report out Tuesday, however, Lehner finds those middle-income jobs are finally picking up – and, for the moment, growing faster than other classes of work.
Oregon middle-wage jobs grew by 2.8 percent last year, outpacing high-wage at 1.4 percent and low-wage at 2.0 percent. It’s the biggest gain for middle-wage work in 15 years, and Lehner said it took place both in Portland and other urban centers as well as rural parts of the state.
“The economic expansion has reached all corners,” Lehner wrote. “The feel-good part of the business cycle is clearly here.”
He attributed the gains to Oregon’s population growth, which has increased demand for social service workers, educators and construction workers, among other middle-wage job classes. Other middle-wage job classes – among them factory workers and office staff – have also been growing lately, reversing decades of decline due to technology.
Oregon’s employment rate stands at 4.1 percent, the lowest point on record. The state’s job market is enjoying almost unprecedented strength, with the jobless rate at or near historic lows for the past 14 months. Oregon job growth was the fifth-fastest in the nation in January.
Still, Lehner found Oregon has 32,000 fewer middle-wage jobs than in 2007.
And absent a robust economy like the one the state is currently enjoying, Lehner said shifting practices in the workplace and ongoing technological change mean high- and low-wage jobs are the most likely to grow in the future.