Keep Your Eye on the Jobs-to-Worker Ratio

Chuck Sheketoff

Not too long ago, the state economists showed how deep the Great Recession’s impact has been on Oregon’s employment compared to previous recessions. The Oregonian senior political reporter Jeff Mapes blogged about one graph in particular in How far Oregon has to get its jobs back — in one depressing graphic.

Mapes was correct: the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis graph was not a pretty picture. And it gets uglier the more you look into the data.

Taking the most recent recession alone, we can see that as a state we still have about 80,000 fewer jobs than we did in December 2007, according to the most recently released employment data.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t tell the full story as it fails to account for population growth. Once that is taken into consideration, the jobs gap gets larger. Oregon's population continued to grow during and following the recession. To keep up with population growth, Oregon would need to have an additional 100,000 jobs. That puts our real jobs gap at over 180,000 jobs.

With population growth comes an increase in the number of working-age Oregonians vying for jobs. If the most recent official job growth projections come true, due to population growth it will be about 2018 before the number of jobs per 100 working-age Oregonians reaches the pre-recession level of 72.7. And official population and jobs projections don't go out far enough yet to calculate when we'll get to the 75.4 level we were at in 2000, before the Bush-era economic fiasco. Now that’s depressing.

The ratio of jobs to working-age Oregonians — the jobs-to-worker ratio — is more important than the actual jobs gap. As long as the ratio of jobs to the number of working-age Oregonians remains low, the job prospects for the unemployed will remain weak and workers will have less power to bargain for good wages and benefits. Thus, it is not just jobs, but a tightening of the labor market that is crucial to improving the well-being of working Oregonians and their ability to share in Oregon's economic prosperity.

Oregon Center for Public PolicyChuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at

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