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  • II. Strategic Elements

    The Unified or Combined State Plan must include a Strategic Planning Elements section that analyzes the State’s current economic environment and identifies the State’s overall vision for its workforce development system.  The required elements in this section allow the State to develop data-driven goals for preparing an educated and skilled workforce and to identify successful strategies for aligning workforce development programs to support economic growth.  Unless otherwise noted, all Strategic Planning Elements apply to Combined State Plan partner programs included in the plan as well as to core programs. 

II. a. 1. B. Workforce Analysis

The Unified or Combined State Plan must include an analysis of the current workforce, including individuals with barriers to employment, as defined in section 3 of WIOA4.  This population must include individuals with disabilities among other groupsin the State and across regions identified by the State.  This includes—

[4] Individuals with barriers to employment include displaced homemakers; low-income individuals; Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians; individuals with disabilities, including youth who are individuals with disabilities; older individuals; ex-offenders; homeless individuals, or homeless children and youths; youth who are in or have aged out of the foster care system; individuals who are English language learners, individuals who have low levels of literacy, and individuals facing substantial cultural barriers; farmworkers (as defined at section 167(i) of WIOA and Training and Employment Guidance Letter No. 35-14); individuals within 2 years of exhausting lifetime eligibility under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program; single parents (including single pregnant women); and long-term unemployed individuals.

[5] Veterans, unemployed workers, and youth, and others that the State may identify.

  • i. Employment and Unemployment

    Provide an analysis of current employment and unemployment data, including labor force participation rates, and trends in the State.

  • ii. Labor Market Trends

    Provide an analysis of key labor market trends, including across existing industries and occupations.

  • iii. Education and Skill Levels of the Workforce

    Provide an analysis of the educational and skill levels of the workforce.

  • iv. Skill Gaps

    Describe apparent ‘skill gaps’.

Current Narrative:

Oregon's Workforce Analysis

The Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro area is Oregon’s largest metropolitan area and is split along the Oregon and Washington state border. Most of the metro area’s residents and jobs are on the Oregon side. The Portland metro area has a labor force of more than 1.3 million people. Because Portland’s economic region crosses the state border, many workers in Oregon actually live in Washington. In 2017 there were about 85,000 people working in Oregon who lived in Washington. The area’s 3.9 percent unemployment rate was about the same as Oregon’s statewide unemployment rate in October 2019.

Unemployment rates tend to be about the same or slightly higher in Oregon’s other metro areas. The unemployment rate in the Bend-Redmond metro area is 4.1 percent, Eugene is 4.4 percent, Salem is 4.4 percent, Medford 4.6 percent, Albany is 4.7 percent, and Grants Pass is 5.4 percent. Although the unemployment rate is higher in Grants Pass, it too is at record low levels for the area. The exception is the Corvallis metro area, which is economically buoyed by Oregon State University. At 3.3 percent, Corvallis has the lowest unemployment rate in the state.

Unemployment is higher in the eastern and southern regions of the state. Grant County in eastern Oregon has the highest rate at 7.0 percent. Other counties with especially high unemployment are Klamath County (6.7%), Wallowa County (6.5%), and Lake County (5.8%). Overall, non-metro area unemployment was 5.1 percent in October 2019.

Figure 1. Map of Oregon Counties showing the Seasonally Adjusted Unemployment Rate for October 2019.

Please see label for Figure 1.

Source: Oregon Employment Department, Local Area Unemployment Statistics

As workers progress in their careers, they may change occupations. This creates an opening in the occupation they leave that can be filled by someone new to the occupation who may need training to fill that opening. Also, when a worker reaches the end of their career, they leave the labor force, again creating an opening that may require a trained worker to fill it.

We use the phrase “replacement openings” for the total number of occupational openings due to people changing occupations or leaving the labor force. Far more workers are needed to fill replacement openings than for “growth openings” that are due to net job growth. Even in some occupational groups with little anticipated net job growth, replacement openings can be numerous.

Projections by the Oregon Employment Department indicate that Oregon will have about 25,000 job openings each year due to economic growth between 2017 and 2027. However, there are going to be an additional 238,000 replacement job openings annually from workers permanently leaving their occupations, mostly due to retirements.

Projected growth and replacement job openings by industry are shown in Graph 3. Health care and social assistance will have the most openings through 2027, but of the 33,000 expected openings each year, 86 percent will be due to replacement needs. In fact, most job openings across industries will be from replacements as more workers enter retirement. As the labor force continues to age, replacement openings are likely to become more numerous and the associated need for training is likely to grow.

Graph 3. Projections for 2017-2027 of Average Annual Job Openings by Industry in Oregon.

Please see label for Graph 3.

Source: Oregon Employment Department


Key Labor Market Trend - Shifting Hiring Conditions Among Oregon Employers:

Throughout the year, the Oregon Employment Department surveys private employers from all industries and areas of the state to ask about the job vacancies they are actively trying to fill. Employers provide the job title, starting wage, and education and experience requirements for each of their vacancies. They also specify whether their vacancies are for full or part-time positions, and permanent or seasonal jobs. If they face hiring challenges, employers also write in the primary reason for difficulty filling each job opening.

The Oregon Job Vacancy Survey has included an open-ended question about employers’ difficulty filling job openings since 2013. In that year, businesses cited a lack of qualified candidates as the most common hiring challenge. This difficulty finding workers with a specific mix of education and experience accounted for 3,600 (24%) of all hard-to-fill vacancies with reasons provided.

As hiring demand strengthened, employers’ hiring challenges shifted. Each year from 2014 through 2018, a lack of applicants was the most common reason businesses gave for difficulty filling vacancies. The share of difficult-to-fill vacancies with either too few or no applicants peaked during 2015 and 2016, the period of the strongest annual job growth in Oregon during this expansion (3.4% and 3.0%, respectively). In 2016 alone, a lack of applicants accounted for 12,100 (38%) of all difficult-to-fill job openings.

Graph 4. Profile of the Reasons for Difficult-to-Fill Job Vacancies in Oregon for 2013 through the Third Quarter of 2019.

Please see label for Graph 4.

Source: Oregon Employment Department, Oregon Job Vacancy Survey

As Oregon reached its record low unemployment rate (4.0%) in November 2016, and has maintained that low unemployment for three years, a new hiring challenge has emerged. “Unfavorable working conditions” includes part-time, on-call, overnight, or inconsistent work schedules, as well as difficult physical working conditions. Employers reported unfavorable working conditions as the primary hiring challenge for 3,100 (or 11%) of the difficult-to-fill vacancies in 2015 and 3,600 in 2016 (11%). That grew to 5,000 (14%) in 2017, and rose again to 6,500 (24%) in 2018. During the first three quarters of 2019, the share has remained stable at 24 percent.

At the same time, the lack of applicants has declined, and other reasons have become slightly more prominent as businesses’ primary hiring challenges. Among those has been an increase in difficulty filling jobs because of the work location. This challenge tends to occur in rural areas of the state. More businesses have also reported difficulty filling job openings due to a lack of affordable housing in the area – particularly along the North Coast, in Central Oregon, and in the Columbia Gorge.

Oregon’s private employers have reported nearly 53,000 job vacancies at any given time through the first three quarters of 2019. While that’s a decline of about 9 percent from nearly 58,000 job vacancies in 2018, hiring demand is still relatively strong. To date in 2019, the number of job openings looks similar to the levels seen during the strongest job growth in this expansion during 2015 (48,000 vacancies) and 2016 (51,000).

With three years of unemployment rates at or near record lows and continued demand for labor, employers offering jobs with difficult physical or scheduling conditions are increasingly reporting these challenges as the primary difficulty filling vacancies. Offering higher wages, employee perks, or benefits may be strategies to broaden interest in vacancies. Jobs with unfavorable working conditions also tend to require relatively less training or experience. This could open opportunities for workforce development organizations to help connect job seekers amenable to tough physical jobs or alternative work schedules with businesses struggling to fill those types of jobs.


Key Labor Market Trend - Automated/Autonomous Vehicles:

Oregon’s eight primary driving occupations and 14 secondary autonomous vehicle-affected occupations will account for 5 percent of total employment with 104,000 jobs in 2027. Over the following 10 to 15 years, various household autonomous vehicle (AV) adoption scenarios – either personal ownership or shared/fleet use – could affect between 11,700 and 14,700 jobs. That totals between 11 percent and 14 percent of all jobs in those occupations.

Commercial trucking scenarios for AV adoption could affect between 29,800 and 32,600 jobs in these occupations looking into the 2040s, depending upon the pace of implementation. Those impacts would be felt for between 29 percent and 31 percent of all jobs in primary driving and secondary affected occupations.

Table 1. Estimates of Oregon Jobs affected by 2040 under Various Household and Commercial Adoption Scenarios.

Combined Household and Commercial Adoption ScenarioJobs Affected*
Personal Cars + Slow Trucking41,500
Fleet Cars + Slow Trucking44,400
Personal Cars + Fast Trucking44,300
Fleet Cars + Fast Trucking47,200

Affected does not always equal "lost". Some affected occupations may still exist, with notably different skills and responsibilities on the job.

Source: Oregon Employment Department calculations using framework from Preparing U.S. Workers and Employers for an Autonomous Vehicle Future, Groshen et al., June 2018.

Taken together, the various combinations of personal and commercial AV adoption scenarios could affect between 41,500 and 47,200 jobs in Oregon, starting around the year 2030. The largest impacts would occur for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers under the commercial scenarios, where 16,200 to 17,500 jobs could be affected. Under the household AV adoption scenarios, estimated job effects are largest for automotive service technicians and mechanics (4,000) and service station attendants (2,600 to 3,900).

Workers in primary driving jobs affected by AV adoption are slightly more likely to be workers nearing retirement. While one out of every four jobs in Oregon is held by a worker age 55 or older, about one-third of workers in primary driving jobs are at least 55 years old.


Key Labor Market Trend - Forest Industry Sector:

Forest sector-related employment in Oregon totaled 61,100 in 2017, which accounted for 3 percent of Oregon’s workforce. Forest-related jobs paid relatively well, with an annual average wage of $54,200, roughly 6 percent more than $51,100 for all jobs covered by unemployment insurance in 2017.

Although metros accounted for twice as many of these jobs, forest sector employment made up 7 percent of all rural employment, compared with 2 percent of all metropolitan area employment. In Grant County, one out of every five jobs (21%) was forest-related. The sector accounted for more than 10 percent of the total in Douglas, Jefferson, and Lake counties.

The forest sector also held relative importance to rural Oregon in terms of wages. In metropolitan areas, forest sector wages sometimes paid less than the annual average for all jobs, but could also pay as much as 35 percent more. Meanwhile, forest sector jobs in rural areas paid as much as 92 percent more than all jobs. That was the case in Clatsop County, where forest sector jobs paid an average of $70,600, compared with $36,800 for all jobs. Lincoln County was similar, with an average annual forest sector wage ($68,400) that was 86 percent above the all-job average ($31,200).

Figure 2. Map of Oregon Counties showing the Forest Sector Wages relative to All Covered Jobs in 2017. All Covered Jobs in Oregon is $3,100 (or 6%) Higher.

Please see label for Figure 2.

Sources: Oregon Employment Department, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages; U.S. Census Bureau Non-employer Statistics


Key Labor Market Trend - Maritime Industry Sector:

Oregon’s maritime sector workforce totaled nearly 19,000 in 2017. Oregon’s covered maritime industries paid a total of nearly $608 million in wages in 2017. The average annual wage of covered jobs in Oregon’s maritime industry was $60,853. That is 19 percent higher than Oregon’s overall annual wage of $51,117. Average annual wages vary depending on industry, ranging from a low of $27,850 in fish and seafood markets to a high of $139,144 in sea and coastal transportation.

Table 2. Oregon's Maritime Workforce in 2017.

Maritime WorkforceNumber of Jobs
Covered Maritime Sector Jobs10,019
Commercial Fishing in Oregon3,498
Commercial Fishing in Distant Waters1,447
Mariners with a U.S. Coast Guard Credential2,598
U.S. Coast Guard and Navy Service Members1,653
Total Maritime Workforce*18,981

* Covered commercial fishing jobs excluded from the total to avoid double-counting.

Source: Oregon Employment Department from various sources.

Maritime sector jobs are prevalent on the Oregon Coast, of course, but maritime sector jobs can be found in 33 of Oregon’s 36 counties. The only counties without a measurable maritime workforce were Harney, Malheur, and Wheeler counties.

Figure 3. Map of Oregon Counties showing the Maritime Sector Covered Jobs and Maritime Non-employers. The Total for Oregon is 12,036 (0.06% Share of All Jobs).

Please see label for Figure 3.

Source: Oregon Employment Department (2017) and U.S. Census Bureau, Nonemployer Statistics (2016)

In some communities, maritime sector jobs are a large portion of the total workforce. The counties with the largest portion of workforce in the maritime sector are Sherman (12.9%), Lincoln (6.5%), Clatsop (5.2%), Coos (4.1%), Curry (3.6%), and Tillamook (2.3%).

The maritime sector workforce tends to be older than Oregon’s overall workforce. About 27 percent of jobs in Oregon’s covered fishing, maritime manufacturing, and transportation jobs are held by workers age 55 years and over. That’s a higher share than the 23 percent of the overall workforce.


Key Labor Market Trend - Defining a True Wage:

The Oregon Workforce and Talent Development Board (WTDB) aims to support Oregon workers as they pursue careers that allow them to prosper and provide for themselves. To this end, the board sought additional information about the current definition of “high-wage jobs” in Oregon and whether it meets the threshold of self-sufficiency, especially for all regions of the state and for all family types. To review the relevant issues and develop possible recommendations, the board formed a task force to review how the current definition of high-wage occupations was used by workforce partners and state agencies, and compared that definition with definitions used in other states.

Oregon is currently using an “above median wage” definition of high wage jobs, comparing an occupation’s median wage with the median across the state or local workforce area. Oregon’s definition is similar to other states that currently have definitions for high-wage jobs; in most cases either a median or a mean wage is used to define occupations or industries with high wages.

The True Wage Task Force defines a “true wage” as a wage that meets or surpasses the threshold of self-sufficiency in all regions of the state and for all family types. Defining a true wage is a complicated endeavor. It includes analysis of the compensation and benefits for many different occupations compared with a broad analysis of cost-of-living components in all regions of the state and for all family types.

A review of existing regional and national initiatives to measure self-sufficiency showed that many of these measures focus on identifying a spectrum of thresholds which describe what income level it takes for a household to be self-sufficient. Our staff also provided information about the benefits offered by employers based on original survey research, collected data about the state’s housing market, and provided U.S. Department of Education student debt data for Oregon post-secondary institutions.

The resulting report Understanding the True Costs of Self-Sufficiency helped define the problem, provided some related data and analysis, and helped the task force lay the groundwork to develop recommendations so that the board can coalesce around a “true wage” definition. Two key policy areas arose out of this report related to housing and childcare which are acknowledged as key workforce issues. This foundational work will underpin future research and support the development of tools and resources that would assist business and policy stakeholders as they track self-sufficiency in Oregon.


Workers with Barriers - Older Workers:

Baby boomers have dramatically changed the age structure of Oregon’s workforce. In 1998, the oldest baby boomers were just 52 years old and the overall workforce was much younger. Two decades ago, just over 10 percent of Oregon’s workforce was age 55 years or older. In 2018, 23 percent of Oregon’s workforce was 55 years and over (Graph 5).

Graph 5. The Share of Oregon Workers Who are 55 or Older between 1992 and 2018. Nearly One out of Four Workers in Oregon is 55 or Older.

Please see label for Graph 5.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Local Employment Dynamics

The number of workers in Oregon who were 55 years and over reached nearly 439,000 in 2018. Of those workers 124,000 were age 65 years and older and working past the traditional age of retirement.

Older workers can be found in jobs in all industries, of course, but some industries have a large concentration of older workers. In Oregon, the industry sectors with a larger than average share of workers 55 years and older are mining (32%), utilities (31%), agriculture and forestry (31%), real estate (29%), transportation and warehousing (29%), public administration (28%), other services (28%), educational services (28%), wholesale trade (26%), manufacturing (25%), health care (24%), and finance and insurance (24%). These industries may face a tougher time finding enough replacement workers as these older workers head toward retirement. At the same time, older workers looking to remain in the workforce may find job opportunities in these sectors if they have relevant experience.

Rural areas in Oregon also have a large concentration of older workers. In fact, the only counties with a smaller share of older workers than the statewide average are Washington County (21%), Multnomah County (21%), and Deschutes County (22%).


Workers with Barriers - Long-Term Unemployed:

Nearly a decade ago, in the early stages of the economic recovery from the Great Recession, the number of long-term unemployed Oregonians spiked to nearly 102,000, the highest number of record. Long-term unemployed are those who have been unemployed for at least six months. The longer an unemployed worker remains unemployed, the less likely they are to find a steady full-time job, and the more likely they are to leave the labor force. Researchers have found that long-term unemployment can lead to a decline in the workers’ knowledge, skills, and abilities, making it harder for them to qualify for available jobs. Other studies show that employers discriminate against the long-term unemployed, making it less likely for an unemployed worker to receive an interview. These barriers to employment exist even in a strong economy.

The total number of unemployed Oregonians has been very low recently, hovering around 90,000 for the last three years. Long-term unemployment has also returned to levels last seen prior to the Great Recession. Over the past year, the number unemployed for longer than six months averaged 16,300 – less than one-fifth of the long-term unemployment peak reached in 2010. Still, even amidst the lowest unemployment rates on record in Oregon, one out of six unemployed Oregonians has been unemployed for six months or longer.

Although the number of long-term unemployed Oregonians has fallen below pre-recession levels, it took about seven years of economic recovery to reduce long-term unemployment to its present level. In addition to how persistent long-term unemployment was post-recession, it’s unclear from the data whether most of the improvement came from long-term unemployed finding work, or if many left the labor force altogether.


Workers with Barriers - Race and Ethnicity:

The population of Oregon has grown to almost 4.2 million. Our median age is slightly higher than the national average, at 39.6 years, compared with 38.2 years across the U.S. More than nine out of 10 Oregonians ages 25 and over have completed high school or more education, a slightly higher rate than the 88 percent in the U.S. One-third of the Oregon population age 25 and over have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Oregon’s population has become more racially diverse over the last two decades, but continues to have a much larger share of the population reporting their race as “white alone” than the national average. In 2018, whites accounted for 84 percent of Oregon’s population, compared with 72 percent of the population across the U.S. In Oregon, Asians made up close to 5 percent, blacks and African Americans accounted for 2 percent of the state’s population, and other races made up the remaining 9 percent.

Oregon’s population has also grown more ethnically diverse, as seen in the growth of the Hispanic population over the last two decades. By 2018, Hispanics and Latinos made up 13 percent of Oregon’s population. This compares with 18 percent of the United States’ population, indicating that Oregon still has a small Hispanic population relative to the national average.

Just about 10 percent of 2018 Oregonians were born in another country. Nationally, foreign-born residents make up 14 percent of the population. English is by far the most prevalent language in Oregon. In 2018, 84 percent of residents were accustomed to speaking only English at home. Nine percent of residents speak Spanish at home. Three percent speak an Asian or Pacific Island language at home.

Across racial and ethnic groups, unemployment rates have fallen to very low levels in recent years. While unemployment does vary across groups, the range in 2018 was within 2 percentage points of the overall average of 4.1 percent. Graph 5 shows the 2018 unemployment rates by race and ethnicity. The unemployment rate among people of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity was higher than average, at 5.6 percent. Unemployment among Oregon’s Asian residents was lower than average, at 2.1 percent.

The Great Recession had a lingering effect on the unemployment rates of some groups. While overall unemployment peaked above 11 percent in 2009, the unemployment rate of Oregon’s black and African American residents spiked to 21 percent by 2011 and stayed well above the overall rate through 2014. Oregon Hispanics and Latinos had a rate of 14.0 percent in 2009 and hit 13.5 percent again in 2011. Oregon’s Asian residents, in comparison, never came close to double-digit unemployment rates throughout the Great Recession and the long recovery since.

Graph 6. 2018 Annual Average Unemployment Rate by Race and Ethnicity for Oregon Compared with the United States.

Please see label for Graph 6.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey


Workers with Barriers - Rural Workers:

It took rural areas of Oregon much longer than it took the Portland area to begin adding jobs following the Great Recession. By 2018 the number of jobs in rural Oregon had barely budged above the levels seen back in 2001; rural Oregon gained just 14,000 jobs, adding 6 percent. Meanwhile, job growth in Oregon’s metro areas has been much stronger since 2001. Job growth in the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro metro outpaced the rest of the state, with a 23 percent gain between 2001 and 2018, amounting to an additional 224,000 jobs. All other metro areas combined gained 21 percent, adding 110,000 jobs.

Graph 7. Nonfarm Payroll Employment Comparing the Portland Area, Other Oregon Metro Areas, and Combined Oregon Non-Metro Counties between 2001 and 2017. Rural Oregon is Adding Jobs at a Slow Pace.

Please see label for Graph 7.

Source: Oregon Employment Department, Current Employment Statistics

Job growth in some areas of rural Oregon is hampered by changes in the economy and an aging population. These are long-term slow-growth trends that were made worse by the Great Recession. Rural areas with less diverse industrial bases are also potentially more vulnerable to the effects of another recession.

Job growth trends have diverged at the county level. Oregon has 23 rural counties and 13 urban counties. There’s tons of diversity among the 23 rural counties, and that shows in job growth trends. In general, more remote areas have had a tougher time growing, and are in some cases outright declining in terms of the job base, while rural counties in close proximity to metro areas have grown more quickly. Grant County and Harney County in far eastern Oregon have lost more than 10 percent of their job base since 2001. Wheeler, Crook, and Malheur counties have also lost a few jobs since 2001, but remain within 5 percent of their 2001 employment levels.

On the other end of the job growth spectrum, Morrow County employment grew 58 percent since 2001, while Hood River County gained 38 percent and Sherman County added 33 percent – all of these counties are along Oregon’s northern border and the Columbia Gorge, linked to the prosperous Portland Metro by I-84. The north Oregon coast fared better than the central and south coast in terms of job growth – again showing the power of proximity to the state’s largest metro area. Clatsop County employment grew 22 percent since 2001 and Tillamook added 16 percent. Lincoln gained 8 percent, while Coos added 7 percent and Curry gained 2 percent. In south central Oregon, on the state’s southern border, Lake and Klamath counties’ employment levels are virtually the same as in 2001.

Table 3. Oregon Job Growth by Area, 2001 to 2018.

Area20012018Number ChangePercent Change
Metropolitan Areas    
Albany, OR MSA40,22046,0205,80014%
Bend-Redmond, OR MSA53,74084,92031,18058%
Corvallis, OR MSA37,48043,6206,14016%
Eugene, OR MSA142,900161,80018,90013%
Grants Pass, OR MSA22,56027,1504,59020%
Medford, OR MSA74,96088,73013,77018%
Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA MSA974,4001,197,900223,50023%
Salem, OR MSA139,300168,50029,20021%
Non-Metropolitan Counties    
Hood River8,68012,0003,32038%

Source: Oregon Employment Department

Average wages in rural Oregon are lower than in urban areas of the state. The combined average annual payroll in non-metro counties was just $39,720, compared with $54,772 in metro areas in 2018. Just four non-metro counties, Morrow, Sherman, Crook, and Gilliam, have average wages that are similar to metro areas. However, the average wages in these four counties are high due to very high wages for relatively few jobs. This increased the overall average without directly raising the wages of other workers. For example, the information sectors of Crook and Morrow counties include jobs at Internet data centers, and the high wages paid in that industry raise the overall county averages above wages in other rural counties.

Graph 8. 2018 Annual Average Wages for Each Oregon County. Average Wages are Much Higher in Most Metro Counties. Metro = $54,772, Non-Metro = $39,720.

Please see label for Graph 8.

Source: Oregon Employment Department

There tends to be fewer jobs per person living in rural Oregon than there are in urban areas, and a smaller share of the population in rural counties is involved in the labor force. The labor force participation rate is the share of the population age 16 years and older that is employed or unemployed. Over the last 20 years, labor force participation rates have been falling in Oregon and the U.S. as a larger share of the population reaches retirement age and fewer young people enter the labor force.

Figure 4. Map of Oregon Counties showing the 2018 Labor Force Participation Rates.

Please see label for Figure 4.

Source: Oregon Employment Department

These trends are particularly strong in many of Oregon’s rural areas. Curry County has the lowest labor force participation rate in the state at 44.7 percent in 2018. That means fewer than half of the county’s population age 16 and over was working or actively looking for job. Other counties with low labor force participation include Crook (48.4%), Coos (48.9%), Josephine (49.5%), and Lincoln (50.0%). Some rural counties have higher labor force participation rates. All of the four rural counties that had participation rates higher than the statewide rate of 62.3 percent were located along the Columbia River. These were Hood River (79.3%), Morrow (65.9%), Umatilla (65.0%), and Wasco (63.6%) counties.

Aging rural populations have a direct effect on the aging of the workforce, as shown by the share of the workforce that is age 55 years and over. Many of these workers are planning to retire in the next 10 years, taking their skills and experience with them, and this will impact employers unless they can recruit workers from other areas to sustain the size of their current workforce.

Table 4. Rural Counties have Higher Shares of Workers 55 and Over, 2018.

AreaNumber of Workers 55 and OlderPercent of All WorkersAreaNumber of Workers 55 and OlderPercent of All Workers
Gilliam23432%Hood River3,36025%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Local Employment Dynamics

Rural Oregon stretches across a vast area and encompasses a variety of industries and economic conditions. Areas of rural Oregon with industries meeting the current needs of the economy are thriving. Other areas of rural Oregon have experienced a long-term reduction in jobs, while the jobs that remain often pay lower wages. Going forward, nearly all of rural Oregon faces the challenges of an aging population and a relatively smaller workforce as fewer members of the communities participate in the labor force.


Workers with Barriers - Disability:

In Oregon, there were about 581,000 people with disabilities on average from 2013 to 2017, according to the American Community Survey. This represented roughly 15 percent of Oregon’s civilian noninstitutionalized population. Among the population of working age, those 18 to 64, about 302,000 had disabilities. Older people are more likely to have a disability. In Oregon, 52 percent of individuals ages 75 years and older have a disability and about 6 percent of the population ages 5 to 17 have a disability. The first chart shows the frequency of types of disabilities for all Oregonians.

Graph 9. Oregon Disability Population by Type of Disability from 2013 to 2017.

Please see label for Graph 9.

Source: Oregon Employment Department and U.S. Census Bureau

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 8.0 percent nationally in 2018, more than twice that of people with no disability (3.7%). This national unemployment rate for people with disabilities was higher than for many other groups of people who have high historical rates of unemployment: African Americans (6.5% vs. 8.0%), Hispanics (4.7% vs. 8.0%), foreign-born workers (3.9% vs. 8.0%), and people without a high school diploma (5.6% vs. 8.0%). Teenagers ages 16 to 19 years did have a higher rate of unemployment (12.9%) than people with disabilities.

Among the population ages 18 to 64, about 113,000 Oregonians with disabilities were employed and 20,000 were unemployed on average between 2013 and 2017. About 170,000 were not in the labor force. There is a big difference in the employment rates between Oregonians with a disability and those without a disability. About 38 percent of Oregonians with disabilities were employed versus 76 percent of those with no disabilities. People who are neither employed nor unemployed are not in the labor force. About 56 percent of Oregonians with disabilities were not in the labor force versus 19 percent of those with no disabilities.


Workers with Barriers - Veterans:

In Oregon, some veterans have significant barriers to employment related to being homeless, low income, lack of high school diploma/GED, offenders, 18-24 year olds, Vietnam era/older workers, disabled veterans, and living in rural areas.

Oregon has an estimated veteran population of 288,540 individuals. The percentage of Oregon’s veteran population (9.0%) is larger than that of the nation as a whole (7.5%). While the veteran population for the nation has a lower unemployment rate than the overall population, Oregon’s veterans have a higher unemployment rate (6.3%) than the general state population (5.9%). Oregon’s largest veteran age cohort is the age group 65 to 74 (84,693), with the next largest group being 75 years and older (68,503). The National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics projects the overall veteran population in Oregon to decrease by about 13 percent between 2018 and 2026. Oregon veteran population with a disability, under age 65 years is (10.10%) which is higher than the national average (8.60%). The number of veterans in Oregon receiving disability compensation is 72,766 per U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs data (2017).

As of January 2019, Oregon had an estimated 15,876 experiencing homelessness on any given day, as reported by Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Of that Total, 1,438 were Veterans.


Skill Mismatches, Shortages, and Gaps:

In September 2018, the Oregon Workforce and Talent Development Board (WTDB), working with ECONorthwest and Program and Policy Insight, released the Oregon Talent Assessment. The purpose of the Assessment is to assess the market for skills from business and industry’s perspective. Specifically, the Assessment serves as business and industry’s determination of in-demand occupations, skills, talent, gaps, and trends. Its goal is to elevate the understanding of Oregon’s skills problem by creating common data and language that can be shared across employers, educators, and workforce intermediaries. The WTDB’s intention is to update the Assessment every two years.

The 2018 Assessment drew on quantitative and qualitative research. It summarized key occupational and wage trends found in a variety of federal and state data sources and reviewed projections. The perspectives of employers were collected through surveys and focus group interviews. Employers’ perspectives generally aligned with market data, and the report highlights the instances where they do not.

The 2018 Assessment’s key findings:

  1. Most employers do not report, and data do not suggest, widespread gaps in basic skills. This report defines a skills gap as a widespread shortfall of basic skills that would be consistent with a broad failure of the education system. A majority (77 percent) of employers agreed that their applicants possessed the basic skills required for their vacant positions: the abilities to read for and locate information, to write for communication, and to apply mathematics. Those who identified deficiencies specified inadequate writing skills.
  2. About half of employers report a shortage of occupational skills required for specific occupations—with problem solving and critical thinking at the top of the list. The Assessment characterizes a shortfall of hard skills—project management, problem solving, machine operation, software competencies, and the like—as a notable challenge in particular occupations.  Respondents in the outdoor gear/apparel, construction, bioscience, food and beverage, and wood products sectors reported the biggest challenges, with the absence of critical thinking and problem solving as the lead deficiencies.
  3. Employers signal a high demand for engineers, skilled tradespeople, and project managers. While industries have specific employment needs, there are occupational needs that exist across sectors. The most frequently cited occupations across industries include engineers, skilled trades, and project managers. Nearly all sectors are in need of engineers, with the type of engineer dependent on the sector. Electrical and mechanical engineers are in demand across sectors. Several interviewees across multiple sectors cited the need for managers to oversee complex business and technical operations or products. Applicants need a broad range of skills, including data analysis, critical thinking, interpersonal and leadership skills, and knowledge of business operations.
  4. Employers recruit out-of-state to meet talent needs. Several key stakeholders indicated that they needed to recruit and hire out-of-state to meet their employment needs for specific occupations: utility line workers, electricians, millwrights, engineers (particularly bachelor’s or master’s level mechanical, industrial, electrical, computer, and chemical engineers), UX/UI (user experience/user interface) managers, and middle-level project managers. With respect to recruiting electricians and millwrights, employers cited barriers to hiring out-of-state due to Oregon’s strict licensing standards.
  5. Interpersonal skills are lacking while also growing in importance. The skills are called by many different names: interpersonal, soft, essential, social. They are the skills associated with an individual’s habits, personality, and character, including dependability, leadership, honesty, and the ability to work in teams. Only a narrow majority of employers (55 percent) agreed that applicants possessed the interpersonal skills required for their vacant positions. When employers were asked what skills applicants lacked, communication skills, motivation, dependability, and time management all elicited high responses.
    • The employers’ responses are echoed in recent research that tracked skills associated with growing and shrinking occupations over the past three decades. Occupations that required a mix of high social and high math skills grew at the fastest rate followed by occupations that required high social skills. Occupations that required high math skills and low social skills shrank as a size of the labor market, while occupations that required low social and low math skills fared the worst of all. The conclusion: the labor market has been rewarding humans for performing tasks that computers cannot do.
  6. Modest wage growth tempers declarations of widespread skill shortfalls. The traditional relationship between unemployment rates and wage inflation is broken in this economic expansion. Nationally, low unemployment rates would suggest an economy near full employment, which typically triggers higher wages and inflation concerns. In this business cycle, wages have yet to accelerate. The relatively modest wage growth makes economists question employers’ calls of skill gaps and shortages.
    • Oregon’s experience is somewhat different than the nation’s. Recovery and wage growth at the state level has outpaced the U.S. average. However, Oregon’s average wages are still below national levels. Pay in Oregon’s rapidly expanding professional and business services sector, which increased at an annual rate of 4.2 percent between 2007 and 2017, could support a story of shortages. It’s hard to find similar evidence in other sectors. Even in construction, where anecdotes of cost overruns are common, wage growth corresponds to broad economy averages. Employer survey responses align with this wage story. When asked how they overcome hiring difficulties, only 35 percent identified wage increases as a remedy.
  7. Populations that remain outside the labor force, late in this economic expansion, warrant priority consideration under the forthcoming adult workforce goal. This economic expansion, at the time of publication, is the second longest in the post-World War II era. Yet labor force participation rates (i.e., the share of the population working or seeking work) are still below those recorded in the early 2000s and 1990s. For the expansion to continue, more people will have to be pulled off the sidelines. Sizable, traditional working age populations are still without work. Almost half have a high school degree or less. And among that population, half receive federal food assistance and 40 percent have children. These late-expansion, non-workers—especially those with limited education—are obvious candidates for a full suite of basic skills training, supportive work environments, and job search assistance programs.
  8. Demography and automation play the leading roles in job projections. The Oregon Employment Department’s recently released 10-year projections boil down to several broad themes: an aging population will demand more healthcare and caregiving; automation will continue to erode employment in all sectors related to paper, from papermaking to publishing; today’s low residential and commercial vacancy rates (and high prices) suggest strong growth in the construction sector; and the government—at all levels—is positioned for slow growth. Five of the top ten fastest growing occupations are health-related: physician assistants, home health aides, nurse practitioners, health specialties teachers, and health diagnosing practitioners. With the leading edge of the Baby boom generation entering their mid-70s, these projections seem like a reasonable scenario.
    • The scope and pace of technological progress is the big question mark. In the near term, most observers anticipate continued destruction of routine work tasks, with disproportionate impacts in food service, office and administrative, sales, and production occupations. Most affected occupations won’t disappear entirely, but the nature of the job will change, and workers will have to adapt accordingly. Artificial intelligence experts anticipate even more disruption and see technology outperforming human labor at higher points on the skill ladder (e.g., disease diagnosis, creative writing, and clothing design). The trends warrant close monitoring.
  9. Employer forecasts of talent needs are common, short-term, and largely unshared. Almost all (97 percent) survey respondents and the majority of interviewed stakeholders note that they primarily use internal company data and analysis to guide forecasting and planning. Most industry stakeholders suggest forecasting timeframes ranging between 3 and 12 months, with ongoing weekly discussions. Respondents described rapidly changing information and the need to be responsive and nimble to changing conditions. The majority of stakeholders indicate that they limit their forecasting analysis to internal use only and do not share with other firms, training providers, or educational or workforce institutions.
  10. Employers report progress on strengthening the talent supply chain through externships, internships, apprenticeships, and reinvigorated career technical education programs. Respondents described a number of recruiting mechanisms designed to attract prospective employees at a younger age. Educator externships expose K-12 teachers, administrators, and counselors to the work they do, and the skillsets required to be successful in these careers. This in turn influences how young people learn about workplace skills and engage with career path options. CTE programs are expanding in high schools, allowing students to get hands-on experience in a wider variety of career options and skill areas. Industries are working closely with post-secondary institutions to develop and support curricular options to train their future workforce. Businesses and education institutions are supporting work-based learning opportunities for future potential employees, such as apprenticeships and internships. Industries are collaborating with associations and workforce development to invest in augmenting displaced workers’ skillsets to support them in transitioning to careers in new sectors. Some industries are working to diversify their workforce by targeting women, minorities, and veterans in their training and recruitment efforts.