How’s the labor market this Labor Day?

Chuck Sheketoff

Here in Oregon, we take Labor Day seriously. After all, we were the first state to declare it a holiday to celebrate workers and the labor movement.

As we celebrate Labor Day, it’s also worth asking, how are workers faring in the labor market?

On the surface, Oregon enjoys one of its strongest job markets in years. In the spring of this year, Oregon's unemployment rate dipped below 5 percent, a level not seen since the mid-1990s, before ticking back up to 5.2 percent in July.

But the low unemployment rate does not necessarily mean Oregon has enough jobs. A better measure for that comes from the ratio of jobs per working-age Oregonian. The higher the ratio, the more plentiful jobs are, helping workers bargain for better wages.

By that measure, jobs were still not plentiful enough as of 2015, the year with the most recent annual data. Last year, Oregon had 71.0 jobs for every 100 working-age Oregonians. That was below the peak of 72.7 in 2007, just before the Great Recession, and even further below the peak in 2000 (75.4).

Jobs certainly remain scarce in many rural counties. As of July of this year -- about nine years after the start of the Great Recession -- 17 of Oregon's 36 counties had yet to regain the number of jobs lost during the economic downturn. Of those 17 counties, 14 are rural counties.

These figures tell us that it’s no time for Oregonians and our lawmakers to rest. We should make targeted investments that further strengthen the economy and help workers who are still struggling. These include expanding access to affordable child care, investing in education, and making needed repairs and improvements to Oregon's infrastructure. All of these investments can help the job markets in both urban and rural Oregon.

This weekend, let’s do as Oregonians have done for over a century and celebrate workers and the labor movement. And after the holiday, let’s return with our sleeves rolled up to continue the work of making sure that all Oregonians who want a good job have a good job.


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 www.ocpp.org.

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