Middle-Income Jobs Disappearing in Oregon

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Middle wage jobs are getting squeezed.

Several times a year, Oregon State Economists share a report on our state’s financial status. We chiefly hear about this report due to its role in budget conversations, but the last report resulted in a different kind of buzz after economists shared the alarming finding that middle-class jobs in Oregon are disappearing.

This month, the Office of Economic Analysis published further investigation into this phenomenon, with their report entitled Job Polarization in Oregon (PDF.) Economist Josh Lehner writes:

The majority of Oregon’s workers are employed in occupations that pay between $25,000 and $50,000 per year [defined middle-income jobs.] Although occupations in this pay range still represent a majority of the workforce, their share of the job market is shrinking rapidly. For the past three decades, employment growth has become polarized, with the majority of job gains occurring at the high and low extremes of the wage distribution.

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In just about a decade, in non-metro Oregon areas, more than 1 out of every 10 middle-income jobs disappeared. Metro areas suffered nearly the same loss of lower middle-income jobs, though upper middle-income jobs saw a smaller rate of loss.

The middle class is getting squeezed. Why is this such a problem? As Lehner writes:

The lack of hard-to-define “family wage” jobs is problematic when the only available opportunities are either unemployment or a low-wage job. This results in a lower standard of living for those individuals and families that lose a middle-wage job and are unable to find another one with similar wages. It also has negative implications for upward mobility among low-income households.

A lack of middle income jobs means that families are falling behind. And then those families that fall behind have no way of catching back to where they used to be, much less getting ahead. In other words, job polarization is both symptom and cause of the income and societal inequities we’re facing.

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