Oregon adds 9,800 jobs in February. If only we could do as well as Washington State! (Not.)

John Calhoun

All the state can do is create an environment that grows jobs and the record shows we are doing just that.

In almost every report on job growth in Oregon over the past year, the Oregonian has repeated the comment that Washington is doing better than Oregon. For example, in the January jobs article published March 1st, the Oregonian said , “Neighboring Washington is outdoing Oregon, with unemployment falling to 9.1 percent in January as that state added 11,000 jobs, seasonally adjusted.” This fits the message of the Oregon business lobby that our state is doing poorly and suffers in comparison to comparable states.

In yesterday’s article, the Oregonian’s Richard Read was not quite as effusive about Washington’s success when he said, “Washington also built on its gains, adding an estimated 800 jobs in February as the state's unemployment rate dipped a tenth of a point to 9.1 percent.”

Let’s stipulate that Washington’s unemployment rate is lower than Oregon’s. No debate there. But the unemployment rate is the result of two factors; the number of jobs and the number of people looking for work. So what has happened over the past twelve months in Oregon and Washington? In Oregon we gained 32,300 jobs (pdf) but we also increased our workforce by 16,707. As a result our unemployment rate only dropped 0.9%. In Washington State, unemployment dropped 0.8%, but this was based upon employment gains of 27,900 and a drop in the labor force of 28,200 (pdf) Furthermore, Washington’s labor force is 77% larger than Oregon’s. For Washington to show the same annual job increase rate as Oregon, they would have had to add 57,000 jobs instead of the 27,900 they did.

What else should have been mentioned about the February numbers? Well not only was the Washington job growth only 800 jobs, but the private sector actually dropped 900 jobs. All the growth was in the public sector. For Oregon, all but 100 of the jobs added in February were private sector.

Now I will be the first to admit that one month does not a trend make, although Oregon did better over the past year. We will have our ups and downs just like Washington. They did better than Oregon in January, Oregon did better in February. My main gripe is that the media tends to focus solely on the unemployment rate without looking at the underlying numbers. However, unless Oregon puts up a fence around the state, we cannot stop Americans from moving here. All the state can do is create an environment that grows jobs and the record shows we are doing just that... Not that one would know that from our media.


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    Washington also has a large defense industry. Gotta keep the blood money flowing.

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    But..but..Oregon is UNFRIENDLY TO BUSINESS! Taxes...Measure 66/67!! Taxes!....


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    Imagine how many jobs could have been created had we not attacked business with M66/67. ;)

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      If I used Tea Party logic on cause and effect I would claim that the passage of M66/67 in January of last year caused the growth in employment in the following 12 months. Therefore we should increase taxes again to stimulate more growth. Of course that would be wrong.

      The single largest factor in employment growth in Oregon is what is going on at the national level. Oregon is primarily following, not leading, national trends. However, those that claim that modest state increases (or decreases) in taxes have a significant effect on employment are also wrong. More important is what is done with government spending as a result of those tax changes.

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    I'm convinced the reason Oregon's unemployment rate is higher than other states is that when Oregonians lose their jobs they don't want to move to some other state to find a job. Living in Oregon is more valuable to a lot of people than finding a new job. Makes sense to me.

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    John - thanks for the post. The media in general and The Oregonian in particular do a horrible job of reporting unemployment data. While Oregon's unemployment rate is too high, the constant comparison to the nation's (as Read did in today's story) is misleading. Oregon has been below the national average just 5 out of the last 38 years. The nation's rate is too high, not just Oregon's. The constant comparison misleads.

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      I wouldn't pick on the Oregonian more than any of the primary newspapers in Oregon. It just happens to be the one I read. Even the Portland Business Journal does no better and the TeeVee people are a lost cause. We need to remember that as long as there is a large lobby that spends a lot of money and effort to persuade people that we are doing poorly, the media will, at some level, carry their message.

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    Great article, John! Thanks for researching this for us. Very useful for my water cooler wars with a particular coworker who continues to beat the drum that OR is experiencing a slow economic death due to M66/67 and WA is flourishing as our businesses flee to a more favorable tax climate. This theory was previously unsubstantiated, but it's quickly morphing into disproven. Any guesses on whether this evidence to the contrary will silence these anti-evidence chicken littles?

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    Krueger Medical Services just received 200 resumes for 1 position. Is this the decisive factor that the economy is improving? (they keep telling us!) Sorry, don't mean to be cynical.

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