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Economy improving, but not for all

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Six years after the Great Recession officially ended, the U.S. and Oregon economies are finally showing signs of a sustained recovery —but not for everybody, and there are enough storm clouds on the horizon to raise questions about how long it will last.

That was the message economist John Mitchell delivered during his annual Economic Forecast before the members of the Portland Business Alliance on Wednesday morning. This year's forecast was the most upbeat since the start of the recession in 2008, with Mitchell saying the economy is predicted to grow 3.2 percent in 2015 and 2.9 percent in 2016

According to Mitchell, the U.S. and Oregon have now recovered all of the jobs lost during the recession and then some. Employment in Oregon is currently at record levels, Mitchell said, and Portland is benefiting from its emergence as a tech hub and reputation as a good place to live.

"Place matters," said Mitchell, noting that employment is finally growing again in all of the state's urban centers, including Bend, Medford and Grants Pass.

At the same time, wages are not keeping up with job growth, leaving many people still worried about their future. That's especially true in Oregon, Mitchell said, where average wages continue to lag behind the rest of the nation.

"We've been growing for years, but a lot of people have never felt it," said Mitchell, citing a recent federal Reserve study that found, compared to five years ago, 34 percent of people say they are worse off, 34 percent say they are the same, and only 30 percent say they are better off.

Despite that, the Oregon housing market has recovered, at least in the urbanized parts of the state. The percent of homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth has dropped to 6 percent, well below the 10.3 average of the rest of the country, Mitchell said.

As Mitchell sees it, the biggest question marks for the economy now concern the rest of the world. He cited the continuing economic stagnation in Europe, Japan, and China as potentially affecting the U.S. and Oregon recoveries.

"Weakness stalks the world," Mitchell said.