The Continuing Decline of Oregon Employment Opportunities

Oregon’s unemployment rate is the third highest in the nation at 10.8%. Only Michigan (12.0%) and South Carolina (11.0%) have rates exceeding Oregon. Oregon’s unemployment rate exceeds the national average (8.5%) by 27%.

This is just standard fare for Oregon. Under an unbroken succession of far left governors, beginning with Barbara Roberts and continuing straight through to Ted Kulongoski, Oregon, in the best of times and the worst of times, trails the rest of the United States.

But these raw figures do not tell the full story of Oregon’s continued slide into the abyss of economic irrelevance.

When I was Oregon Vice-president for U S WEST, I was automatically included on the boards of directors for the Oregon Business Council and the Portland Chamber of Commerce (now the Portland Business Alliance). One of my department directors was on the board of directors for the Association of Oregon Industries. I routinely expressed my dismay over the fact that not one of these “business associations” advocated a single thing for the growth of business in Oregon. Their agendas were remarkably the same and reflective of the far left governors in power — more money (without accountability) for schools, stricter environmental laws, and preservation of salmon. Nothing about tax reform, nothing about land use reform, nothing about reduction of arbitrary regulations.

Finally, apparently having listened to my objections one too many times, the oracles of business acumen in Portland took me aside to tell me two things. First, they weren’t interested in just job growth; they wanted quality job growth — not just any jobs but high-end jobs. And second, that my continued objections to their priorities (really the governors’ priorities) would ensure that I would not progress through the chairs of these organizations.

So how has that worked out for the governors and their minions in the Portland business community?

Well, Oregon continues to suffer its highest job losses in the high-end manufacturing and construction sectors, while the hotels and restaurants minimum wage jobs suffered the smallest loss.

In just the past year, Oregon’s construction industry took a massive hit with a job loss of 17,200 jobs or —17.25%. Manufacturing lost 25,000 jobs or —12.44%. Professional and Business Services lost 1800 jobs or —6.55% and Trade, Transportation and Utilities lost 23,600 jobs or —6.92%. In contrast, the minimum wage sector, Travel & Leisure lost only 6,200 jobs or —3.56%. Unaffected by poor economic conditions, however, was continued growth in government and government related jobs. Government grew by 6,200 or 3.56% and Education and Health Services grew by 6,700 jobs or 3.09%.

While the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, reported that Oregon experienced a year-over-year job loss of 81,800 or —4.7%, in reality the private sector experienced a job loss of 94,700 or —7.73% when government employment is excluded.

Of that 94,700 job loss, Construction, Manufacturing, and Trade, Transportation and Utilities (the traditionally highest paying jobs) accounted for 65,800 or nearly seventy percent of all jobs lost in the past year. While it may make the Portland business community feel good to blather on about high-end jobs, their collaboration with a succession of anti-business governors has doomed the state in terms of business and job opportunity for future generations.

And yet, despite twenty unbroken years of decline, the Portland business community once more gathered in solemn consideration of Oregon’s future and once again adopted verbatim the governor’s priorities — in this case the pipe dream of Oregon becoming the national leader in “green industry” growth. Gov. Kulongoski continues to demonstrate his lack of business reality by announcing that Oregon will become the solar power capital of the United States — a state in which, for the majority of the population, the sun doesn’t shine for eight months a year — and the leader in wind power generation in a state in which the environmentalists have already blocked one wind power project in the Gorge and another near the Steens. And more importantly, the governor has already shown his resistance to large-scale projects to transport power in the form of liquid natural gas (LNG).

Apparently the governor fails to recognize that these sources of power can only be built where wind and sun are in abundance. He also fails to recognize that most of these places are far distant from the population centers and require transport of the power generated (power lines) to these population centers.

While it might be “hip” to embrace these renewable energy technologies, the practical reality of deployment is already being resisted by the very people who have advocated their use — the very people to whom the governor is beholden financially and philosophically. The prospect of substantial job growth of high paying jobs associated with the governor’s view of “green economic growth” will remain a pipe dream as other states with better business climates and more forceful business leaders usurp Oregon’s dream.

Oregon is failing its citizens in the single most important aspect of quality of life — a good paying job. There is abundant evidence that Oregon voters don’t particularly care and thus have condemned the state to economic irrelevance.