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Economist sees positive Portland job growth, not so much for nearby areas

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TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Portland is doing well - except in the $35,000 to $50,000 jobs category. The middle class is literally shrinking,  said Christian Kaylor, Oregon Employment Department workforce economist.The Portland metro area’s economy is booming, especially for those who have top-tier, full-time jobs and live in Portland proper, a state economist told east county business leaders on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

Portland’s jobs picture is brightening for those at the top and many at the bottom of the wage scale, but not for those in the middle, said Oregon Employment Department workforce economist Christian Kaylor, who is in his 16th year analyzing the Oregon economy.

It’s great to prosper in Portland, but tough to find a job in the middle pay ranges, Kaylor told the government and economic affairs committee of the East Portland Chamber of Commerce.

Of the new jobs created in Portland between 2010 and 2014, about 35 percent paid $100,000 or more, he said. These are mainly in high tech. “It’s almost 30,000 new jobs in the last four years,” Kaylor said.

Thirty-three percent of the new jobs paid $75,000 to $100,000 in information and professional and technical services. That’s more than 20,000 new jobs.

Fourteen percent paid $50,000 to $75,000 in non-high-tech manufacturing, government, construction, ambulatory health care, wholesale trade and financial services. That’s about 20,000 new jobs.

Twelve percent paid $25,000 to $35,000. These are in nursing and residential care, retail and employment services. That’s 12,000 new jobs.

But there was a seven percent loss in jobs paying $35,000 to $50,000 over the four years. The loss of jobs was in the areas of non-high-tech manufacturing, construction, government, employment services and retail trade. That’s a loss of 7,000 jobs.

“The middle class is literally shrinking,” he said. “It’s right there. That’s the number.”

Portland’s middle-class lost ground, yet, overall nationally and in Portland, he said, job growth was healthy. Nationally, 3.1 million jobs were created in 2014, and 2.9 million were created in 2015. That is a huge recovery from 2007 and 2008, when the U.S. lost nearly 9 million jobs, “without a doubt the worst recession since the Great Depression,” Kaylor said.

While many unemployed and partially employed still suffer in Portland, the seven-county Portland metro area added 152,000 jobs since the great recession of 2008, a 16 percent increase over the six years including a 3.3 percent increase this past year, Kaylor said.

It’s the first time since 1999 that the Portland area has seen an annual job growth rate over 3 percent, he said.

“We’ve been outperforming most of the United States, which is at about 2 percent this year,” he said. “San Jose breaks the model at 5.1 percent growth. Those guys are on fire. High tech is doing very, very well. It’s helping Portland as well.”

The 3.3 percent is the eighth fastest rate of job growth among America’s 50 largest cities, tied with Tampa and Charlotte.

Portland is growing faster than Seattle’s 2.9 percent. Minneapolis, often thought to be booming, has a job growth rate last year of 1.6 percent, he said.

“There are places that are really struggling: Milwaukee, Houston, Pittsburgh, Chicago. Portland is not one of them. We are outperforming them,” he said.

Of the 152,000 new jobs, 131,400 were created in Portland alone, the rest in the suburbs. Portland’s job creation is about 2.5 times that of the other six Oregon metro areas combined. Those are Salem, Bend, Eugene, Medford, Corvallis and Grants Pass, he said.

Portland’s mean income 10th in the nation

Portland also ranks 10th in the nation for salaries among America’s largest cities, Kaylor said.

While Portland’s blue-collar jobs are losing ground, the mean full-time employee in Portland is making $65,634, which is 10th in the nation, although the city is 26th in population.

The top mean pay for the fully employed in the U.S. is in San Francisco at $91,782. Seattle is third at $79,685. Others making more than Portland are Washington, D.C., Atlanta, San Jose, Boston, New York, Oakland and San Diego.

Worst off of America’s 50 largest cities is Detroit with a mean full-time worker’s salary of $37,028.

“We in Portland are not only creating lots of jobs, but they pay very well,” Kaylor said.

The area’s greatest prosperity accrues to those living in the city of Portland and in the top jobs, he said.

And, although the employment department doesn’t keep track of “churn,” or movement of workers in and out of the area, it’s likely that many of the highest paid workers come from out of state, he said. And these workers may move at any time.

While Portland’s $65,634 mean income is 13 percent more than 2006, Gresham’s mean income is 15 percent less than in 2006. It is $43,293, or 50 percent less than Portland.

The mean income has fallen as well in Beaverton and Vancouver, while in Hillsboro it has risen just 2 percent in that period.

“What this means is that we need to improve education,” said Brent Mason, chamber president. “We need to make it possible for those at the bottom to get those top jobs.”

“I know he (Kaylor) has to be nonpartisan, but I wonder what we should do about the minimum wage,” said Glen Austin, owner of a Minuteman Press franchise.

“It does seem it would help some,” he said, “But would some lose their jobs? And would we really help those who need a hand? So what should we do with this information?”

Char Shinn, vice president for business and community development at the Oregonians Credit Union, said she was pleased, too, about job growth. She noted the Federal Reserve System’s recent .25 percent increase in the interest rate helps her organization greatly.

Kaylor said the economic news is mixed for Portland. While a 10-year trend in industry growth shows a 26 percent increase in professional and business services and a 33 percent increase in health and social assistance, it shows a 7 percent drop in construction and a 2 percent drop in manufacturing.

That cuts the options of skilled workers from carpenters to assembly line workers.

Toughest news in the metro area is that many folks are doing far worse. In Troutdale, Fairview, Wood Village and Gresham 65,056 people live in poverty, Kaylor said. That’s the highest concentration of poverty in Oregon.