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.