Oregon's Economy: Employment

sunset in the Columbia River Gorge
Sunrise from the Portland Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint showing Crown Point and the Vista House to the east in the Columbia River Gorge. (Oregon State Archives Photo)
Oregon’s labor force is 2.1 million strong. Three out of five of the state’s working age residents were involved in the labor force in 2019. The total labor force includes unemployed people looking for a job, people who are self-employed, and employees working at the 161,000 business establishments and government entities across the state. 

Total payroll employment reached a peak of 1,955,700 in February 2020, after the longest expansion in Oregon’s history. Payroll employment fell by a few thousand jobs in March 2020, at the onset of the pandemic, and in April 2020 every major industry in Oregon lost jobs as the economy suffered the largest one-month contraction in history. The effect of COVID-19 control measures on the economy of Oregon and the nation was more akin to a natural disaster than a business recession.

Leisure and hospitality suffered the brunt of the initial business closures. Payroll employment in the industry fell an astounding 54.6% in April. The industry had been growing steadily since 2010, adding roughly 46,000 jobs over the last 10 years. A drop of 6,000 industry jobs in March 2020 was followed by a collapse in April with the loss of 108,400 jobs. The reopenings of some restaurants and lodging that began in May offered an opportunity for some job gains in leisure and hospitality, but the industry is currently beset with uncertainty about its future.

Private education and health care is a large sector that historically added jobs consistently during recessions and expansions. Yet this sector shed the second-largest number of jobs in April 2020 when COVID-19 measures directly prohibited elective and non-urgent medical procedures and closed schools. Private-sector employers cut 30,300 jobs in April. Population growth, the aging of the population and increased access to health care means there is a growing need for workers in this sector, and it is expected to add more jobs over the next 10 years than any other sector. Private education and health care employment totaled 273,100 as of April 2020.

Oregon’s manufacturing sector shrank about 20% during the Great Recession of 2008. The industry added back nearly 34,000 jobs since 2010 and seemed poised to return to its pre-recession level. Recent manufacturing job growth has been led by semiconductor and electronic component manufacturing, machinery manufacturing and food manufacturing. The industry shed about 11,000 jobs in April as businesses struggled to adapt their processes to COVID-19 requirements for social distancing and personal protective equipment for workers.

Oregon’s high-tech sector is a crucial and dynamic piece of Oregon’s economy that spans a number of industries. Taken together, Oregon’s high-tech sector accounted for more than 94,000 jobs in 2019. This includes tech manufacturers such as computer and electronic product manufacturing, but it also includes computer system design; architectural, engineering, and related services; software publishers, and other high-tech industries.

The forestry sector is another crucial piece of Oregon’s economy that supports employment in many private-sector industries and in government agencies. The combined categories of forest sector employment totaled 61,051 jobs in 2017. Employment in the sector has been stable in the previous two years. Forestry jobs have an outsized impact on the economies of rural counties and pay higher wages. The sector accounts for more than 7%  of jobs in some rural counties, but just 2% or fewer of jobs in urban counties.

While no industry sector was immune from the impacts of the restrictions and the drop in demand from the COVID-19 pandemic, the forest sector lost a lower percentage of jobs than the overall economy. Preliminary estimates show that in April 2020, Oregon lost roughly 13% of its jobs due to the pandemic while combined logging and wood product manufacturing lost about 5%. 

Agricultural employment averaged 64,400 jobs in 2019. Agricultural employment is seasonal, so the number of jobs ranged from a low of 54,900 jobs in January and reached a high of 82,800 in July.

Oregon farms operated about 16 million acres of farm land in 2017 according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture. The market value of products sold reached $5 billion in 2017, ranking 28th in the U.S. Crops represented 66% of Oregon’s sales or about $3.3 billion, while livestock, poultry and other animal products brought in 34% or $1.7 billion.
Sportsman Cafe sign
Food service and drinking places industry tops Oregon's employment list. Shown above is a cafe sign in Oakridge. (Oregon State Archives Photo)

Oregon’s Top Ten Industries by Employment in 2019​

  1. Food services and drinking places (159,151)
  2. Professional and technical services (99,626)
  3. Administrative and support services (97,520)
  4. Ambulatory health care services (94,284)
  5. Specialty trade contractors (67,282)
  6. Hospitals (59,591)
  7. Social assistance (57,786)
  8. Nursing & residential care facilities (52,313)
  9. Management of companies and enterprises (50,467)
  10. Food and beverage stores (43,304)

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