by Sen. Doug Whitsett
Oregon’s November quarterly economic forecast was made public last week. The report revealed that the state is continuing its slow recover from the Great Recession.
The latest recession hit Oregon much harder than most other states. The celebrated “recovery” has yet to even restore the number of jobs that were lost during that recession.
For instance, comparing pre-recession 2007 and current 2014 numbers:
*The total number of current Oregon jobs remains nearly 14,000 fewer than in 2007.
*Private sector employment is down nearly 17,000 jobs.
*Government sector employment has increased by about 3,000 jobs.
Only the Portland metropolitan area has registered positive job growth since 2007. Other metropolitan areas, including Bend, Corvallis, Eugene, Medford and Salem, remain about 4 percent below 2007 employment opportunity levels. Virtually all of the more rural districts outside of those six metropolitan areas remain at least eight percent below 2007 job numbers.
Even worse, Oregon’s workforce participation rate is at the lowest level since officials started keeping records in 1976. According to the Oregon Employment Department, more than two of every five Oregonians who are capable of working are currently neither working nor looking for employment.
In spite of sequential reports of economic recovery, Oregon’s workforce participation rate has continued to fall during the past four years in all but Wasco and Wheeler counties. The reductions in workforce participation are uniformly worse in all regions outside of the metropolitan areas.
Oregon’s population has increased nearly 270,000 during the seven years since the Recession began. Job creation has failed to keep pace with that population growth. Our state economy will have created no job placements for the more than a quarter of a million new Oregonians, even after job numbers are returned to pre-recession levels by the future creation of about 14,000 new jobs.
The Forecast numbers show that about 40 percent of all Oregonians are currently employed, compared to more than 46 percent who had jobs in 2007. Job growth for new high school and college graduates is specifically not keeping pace with demand.
Younger Oregonians are persistently experiencing the highest levels of joblessness. Millennial and members of “Generation X” are generally struggling to make ends meet. Nearly a quarter of the population between the ages of 18 and 25, who want to work, either cannot find jobs or can only find part-time employment.
The Forecast shows that the rate of formation of new Oregon households is reduced by nearly half since 2007. The report cites fewer jobs, poor wage growth, limited access to credit, degraded mobility, student loan debt and lower marriage rates as significant reasons that Oregonians are unable to form new households.
Oregonians’ median household income is more than $4,000, or eight percent, less than it was in 2007. Median household purchasing power has been further eroded, significantly, when adjusted for seven years of inflation.
Not surprisingly, Oregonians’ household net worth has also declined more than 40 percent during the past seven years. Reduced equity in personal residences, diminished savings and increased personal debt are the leading causes for the sharp decline in net worth.
Oregon’s overall economy is continuing its slow expansion. Economic indicators do show some acceleration of that expansion in certain metropolitan areas.
However, the employment and economic statistics make clear that most middle and lower income families are not participating in what they are being told is a broad economic recovery in Oregon. They are certainly not participating in economic growth equal to what is being recorded in many other states.
In my opinion, Oregon’s economy will not recover until any number of failed political polices are dramatically reversed. The outcome of the recent state election virtually ensures that those changes will not be made in the next four years.
In fact, many new and even more onerous labor, energy, environmental and liability policies are being queued up for passage in the 2015 Legislative session. The majority party now has the votes to enact virtually any law they choose.
Several of these new political policies will further target the budgets of lower and middle income Oregonians. Given that reality, I do not expect the bleak economic outlook for Oregon families and communities to improve into the foreseeable future.
Senator Doug Whitsett is the Republican state senator representing Senate District 28 – Klamath Falls