First Quarter 2020: Jobs Increase and Median Wage Rises

by Erik Knoder

October 8, 2020

Oregon’s employers reported a total of 2,125,119 jobs during the first quarter of 2020 (January, February, and March). This was an increase of nearly 25,000 from the previous year, and it continued a general upward trend in employment that began in 2010. The median (middle) wage of all non-federal jobs was $21.49 per hour during the first quarter of 2020, which was $0.79 per hour higher than the previous year.

Why the rise in median wage? It was largely due to the decrease in lower-wage jobs, those paying less $15 per hour, and in increase in higher wage jobs, mainly those that paid $15 to $30 per hour and also those paying more than $60 per hour. Part of this shift to higher wage jobs was due to structural changes in Oregon’s economy over the past year. Several lower-wage industries – namely retail trade, leisure and hospitality, and other services – had little or no growth in employment and some middle-wage industries such as transportation, warehousing, and utilities and the health care and social assistance industry added many jobs. Manufacturing, with a median wage of $25.15 per hour, did shed jobs over the year, but the growth in other industries offset those losses. Another reason for higher wages was the tight labor market that prevailed in the first quarter until the pandemic hit. Oregon added jobs in every wage group above $15 per hour.

The largest gains in jobs over the year came in transportation, warehousing, and utilities (+10,438 jobs) followed by healthcare and social assistance (+5,317 jobs) and construction (+4,053 jobs). Manufacturing cut 5,549 jobs.

The first quarter of 2020 was also when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Oregon and when the subsequent recession began. The impact of measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic will probably not be evident in this data until the second quarter of 2020. The drastic jobs cuts didn’t occur until April 2020, which is the beginning of the second quarter. The third quarter 2020 could also see the addition of seasonal jobs, but many of the jobs lost in response to the pandemic will not be recovered by then.

Since this data for the first quarter of 2020 likely represents the high-water mark for expansion after the Great Recession, it may be instructive to compare the first quarter of 2020 with the first quarter of 2010, when the Great Recession was at its worst. Oregon added 488,106 jobs (+28%) over the 10 years. Nationally employment grew about 17 percent over the same time. Another notable change is the massive decrease in the lowest-wage jobs and the impressive increase in higher-wage jobs. The number of jobs paying $10 per hour or less decreased by 94 percent from 2010. Oregon’s increases in minimum wage played a large part in that. However, jobs paying more than $60 per hour increased 134 percent and jobs paying $50 to $60 per hour increased 101 percent. Much of the growth in higher-wage jobs was driven by growth in professional and business services (+97,592 jobs) and in health care and private education (+95,510 jobs). Construction, which now has a higher median wage than manufacturing, added 50,702 jobs.

To provide better data, this analysis also filters out job records that are likely to 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.


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