Changing Job Market

The Portland Metropolitan region has shown robust employment gains over the 30-year period from 1970 to the 1990s. The region more than doubled the number of jobs in all sectors, from around 500,000 to over 1 million. Nationally, manufacturing declined in the 1990s, but the Portland region experienced more than a 25% gain in employment in this sector. In the past, the regionís diversity among sectors has provided insulation against the cyclical extremes of boom and bust cycles that have occurred in some cities (1). In the 1990s, the region was more subject to national trends.

Currently, the Portland economy highlights many vulnerabilities. Like other cities, Portland has continued to lose headquarter status of many national companies. While the greater number of manufacturing jobs has generated growth and higher income levels, it has also made Portland more susceptible to a cyclical economy. In addition, the absence of a top tier research university directs much public and private funding elsewhere (2).

As the Portland region emerged from the recession that hit in 2000 and 2001, it added jobs to its economy. Today the region has more jobs than ever. However, the structure of those jobs has changed. Since 1990, the share of manufacturing jobs in the region has fallen from 17.1 percent to 12.5 percent today, though the overall number has increased. At the same time, the share of jobs in the service sector has expanded. Manufacturing is becoming less labor intensive, and services are becoming moreso; however, their shares of statewide economic output have remained relatively stable in recent decades. This has changed the requirements for getting a good job in our economy.

Economic Strengths

Portland has distinguished itself in many ways, making it a desirable place to live and work. Portland ranks 13th in educational attainment in cities, with almost 39% of Portlanders over age 25 holding a bachelors degree or higher (3). An educated workforce is a necessary resource for high-tech and high-skill businesses. Portland ranks in the top five, and often in the top two, in many national rankings looking at everything from biking and walking to dog ownership, sustainability, library circulation, local food and best places to live and visit (4). A livable community is a draw for new people, and Portland has seen its population grow while many other regions in the country are shrinking, especially among the 25-34 age group.

Portland has a diverse economy. Small businesses (fewer than 50 employees) make up over 40% of the jobs within Portland city limits (5). The Portland region has a large number of nonprofit organizations Ė 2,740 at last count Ė which employ over 73,000 people, or 9% of the Portland regional workforce (6). Of these, 14% of nonprofit employers are in the health services sector, employing about half of nonprofit workers.

Portland as a region has developed many business clusters that attract income from outside the region. Creative services, high-tech products, metal products, food processing and many more make up our traded sector industries. In addition to drawing workforce talent, Portlandís role as a West Coast trade gateway for marine, rail and air transportation has helped to drive the development of its industry clusters. These companies provide somewhere between one-quarter to one-third of the economic activity and employment in the region. There is general agreement that encouraging existing and emerging clusters will strengthen and diversify the regionís economy.

Economic Challenges

This diversity and livability does not always translate into successful employment for all segments of society. In 2000, Portlandís median household income ranked 32nd among the 100 largest US cities, experiencing substantial growth in the 1990s. Portlandís poverty rate also declined in the 1990s and was significantly below that of most large US cities. The recession earlier this decade reversed some of that progress.

  • While unemployment in the region has decreased from its high of 8.3% during 2003 to around 5% in 2007, the rate is still above the nation as a whole (4.6% in August 2007).

  • Median incomes have largely remained flat since 2001, while the poverty rates have increased, sometimes sharply (7).

  • In 2005, 17.4% of individuals in Multnomah County were below the federal poverty line, up from 12.7% in 2000. For Portland, the numbers were similar: 17.8% in 2005, up from 13.1% in 2000.

  • The poverty line in 2007 is about $20,000 for a family of four.

Growing housing, food and health care costs create greater economic challenges for Portland area families and individuals, and will likely continue to do so into the future.

  1. City of Portland Bureau of Planning, ďPortland Present,Ē January 2004.
  2. Ibid.
  3. U.S. Census Bureau, 2005 American Community Survey.
  4. See Portland Development Commissionís Portland Praises web page:
  5. City of Portland Bureau of Planning
  6. Facts on nonprofits from
  7. Institutute of Portland Metropolitan Studies, ďMetropolitan Briefing Book 2007,Ē pp24-25.


Click Here to view a chart depicting the total metropolitan non-farm employment, seasonally adjusted from 2001 through 2006.

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