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Chair's Blog

The state of prosperity in the region January 2017
By DJ Wilson, KGW Media Group

The Portland area economy is prospering, but not everyone in the region is sharing equally in this prosperity. That is a main message from the Value of Jobs Coalition’s 2016 Economic Check-Up released in December. In case you haven’t seen the report, I encourage you to take a look at valueofjobs.com.

This annual look at our region’s economic health reveals some continued good news, but some troubling trends about the kind of metropolitan area we are becoming. An important question now sits in front of us: How do we make sure that all residents of this region, regardless of their address or ethnic background, have access to better jobs and, subsequently, greater family incomes?

This is the seventh annual Economic Check-Up by the Value of Jobs Coalition – a partnership between the Alliance and other business associations. The report originally began in 2010 to better understand how the region stacked up against other metro areas in terms of job growth and family incomes. Each year, the report demonstrates trends that we as a community need to focus on and it drives much of the Alliance policy agenda in terms of private-sector job growth and retention.    

Looking at this year’s report, in 2016 Portland-metro grew 33,700 new jobs, with significant gains in the construction sector. Productivity went up, and for the first time in years, household incomes rose across the wage spectrum by 5.9 percent at the median.

Yet, despite this welcome news, Portland-metro’s Median Household Income (MHI) still remains below pre-recession levels and affordability remains a concern, particularly housing affordability. The report found that for the first time, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Portland, at $1,280 a month plus utility expenses, is out of reach for families who earn 100 percent or less of the region’s Median Family Income. In fact, housing has become so unaffordable that the average one-bedroom apartment in Portland, Gresham and Beaverton are all out of reach for families making 60 percent of MFI. Low- to medium-income earners are becoming more and more vulnerable to displacement as people move further out in search of a home they can afford.

Another troubling trend uncovered in this year’s report is that income gains are not shared equally across the region. At $101,212, Camas, Wash., has a MHI that is double that of Gresham; and the Portland’s MHI is $60,082, just below the regional average. Additionally, the report showed that communities of color are not equally sharing in the prosperity. While White, Asian and Hispanic/Latino households recovered income losses experienced during the recession, African American household incomes continued to lag, ending 2015 with a MHI that was 8 percent less than a decade earlier.

When the region’s core becomes less affordable and workers must live further from job centers, there can be a profound impact over time on economic mobility, and commuting costs shift to those who can least afford it; not to mention, additional road congestion and wear and tear.

As you’ll see in the report, Portland is booming, but not without significant growth, affordability and equity challenges to address. At the Alliance, we hold firm to a belief that growing and maintaining quality family-wage jobs must remain a top priority when tacking these issues. This includes access to opportunity through educational outcomes, workforce training, investing in the transportation system or other initiatives.

The Alliance Board is committed to working with leaders in the public and private sectors to find solutions to these challenges. I know we are all in this together, so I want to thank you for everything you do as business leaders, every day to lift the economy and help generate opportunities for everyone.   
 
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