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2015 Economic Check-Up; income and affordability remains our challenge December 2015
By Mitch Hornecker


This week, we released the sixth annual Value of Jobs Economic Check-Up in partnership with the Value of Jobs Coalition. The report looks at Portland-metro’s economic performance in 2015 and shows that we’re repeating some key trends seen in our region’s economic history; trends that follow recessions and upswings. In short, we’re seeing a landscape similar to 2014 showing strengths in job growth, productivity and exports. Portland-metro’s median household income (MHI) even outpaces the national average as well as some U.S. metro areas with whom we compare ourselves. Yet, incomes continue to grow slowly. Portland-metro’s median household income only increased $120 between 2013 and 2014. Individual per capita income has grown a paltry $740 since 2000.  Contrasted with our much more rapidly rising cost of living, it’s clear that our region continues to become more unaffordable for many working families.

But let’s start by diving into the good news. Portland-metro’s job growth is experiencing a faster rebound from recessionary job losses than most metro regions across the country. The region added 35,800 new jobs between September 2014 and September 2015, and has now added a total of 70,700 net new jobs since 2007, which was our peak employment before the recession. We’re seeing this growth in local and traded sectors, both of which are important to a healthy regional economy. As we all know, our core mission at the Alliance is to grow private-sector jobs in the region, so as a general trend, we welcome this news – especially given our rapid population growth.

Two other areas where Portland-metro’s economy shines are in productivity and exports, driven largely by our very strong electronics industry, specifically the impact of semiconductor manufacturing, otherwise known as “the Intel effect.” Portland-metro continues to outpace the nation in Gross Metropolitan Product (GMP), landing ninth in the nation for year over year growth in 2015. Additionally, Portland-metro is a national leader in manufacturing as a percentage of overall exports, with 75 percent of Portland-metro’s exports attributed to manufacturing compared to 60 percent nationally. This last point underscores two things – the importance of manufacturing to jobs in our region and the critical role international trade continues to play in the overall economy.     

Yet despite this good news, we’re still seeing concerning trends related to incomes and affordability, and so once again, we looked at the types of jobs that are growing here. Since we began these reports in 2010, a persistent concern has been our lagging income growth, especially for middle-income workers. It is troubling to see that incomes have still not rebounded even though the number of jobs has bounced back. Portland-metro’s per capita income trails the national average by $1,821, while median household income outpaces the national average by $3,700 but lags– Seattle, Denver and Minneapolis – which are our aspirational comparative regions. In fact, since 2010 the gaps between Portland’s household income and those of our aspirational regions have only grown wider.

Both of these measurements are important indicators of how Portlanders are faring in the economy. What these latest statistics shows us is that we need to focus on creating more job opportunities that offer better incomes, specifically middle-income jobs that another recent Value of Jobs report revealed have been in decline for three decades

The area that I found the most interesting, and concerning, is where we look at the types of jobs offered in the region and what that means for prosperity. Again, the results look great at first. Portland-metro’s labor force participation outpaces the national average across most age ranges, particularly for those in prime income earning years. However, when we consider only full-time and full-year employees, Portland underperforms the U.S. metro average at every age range. This means Portlanders are working, but a disproportionate number are in part-time jobs that are less likely to offer good wages and benefits. This has negative implications for the region’s economy, because lagging incomes make it much harder for individuals and families to save for retirement, purchase a home, put kids through college or just make ends meet. 

So, what do we need to do? We need to focus not just on job growth, but ensuring good jobs for everyone. We also need to address the affordability issue, which is increasingly becoming more challenging for Portland families as a result of slow income growth, rapidly rising housing prices and cost of living increases. If we want Portland to be a place where middle-income families can prosper, we need to address some of the issues raised in this report. It is our hope we can work with you, our members, leaders and decision makers to grow good jobs, raise incomes and increase affordability.

Please take the time to read the full report at www.valueofjobs.com.

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