Oregon’s Dismal Employment Picture Isn’t Gov. Kitzhaber Fault – Just Ask Him

Right From the Start

Right From the Start


Gov. John Kitzhaber wants to be re-elected again – for the fourth time. At the end of his second term he deemed Oregon “ungovernable” which is liberal newspeak for “it’s not my fault that I failed.” After eight years in office, Mr. Kitzhaber’s singular achievement was the Oregon Health Plan – a precursor to Obamacare which failed not in its enrollment process but rather than its excessive costs and poor performance. In his third term Mr. Kitzhaber’s singular achievement has been the disastrous and now-abandoned Cover Oregon (Mr. Kitzhaber’s embrace of Obamacare) – a $250 Million debacle resulting in the online enrollment of not one single person. And Mr. Kitzhaber’s has once again declared that isn’t his fault and that he want’s to sue the tech contractor – which I hope he does because then all of the facts will come out and Mr. Kitzhaber and his barely able cohorts likely will be demonstrably at fault.

In the meantime, back in Oregon where people live and try to work, what has happened under Mr. Kitzhaber’s watch? Well, Oregon has yet to recover the number of private sector jobs lost in the Bush/Obama recession. (In contrast, the number of state public employees is at an all time high in what might be considered to be a “quid pro quo” for the public employee unions funding Mr. Kitzhaber’s campaigns. Yes, that’s right. Because of mandatory participation in funding public employee unions, the increase in sheer employee numbers results in additional funds to the unions.) Oregon’s overall labor participation rate has fallen fast and farther than the national average. The state lost nearly 4,300 jobs in the last month but state government and the public employees union grew another 300. And the state has lost well-paying jobs in the Manufacturing and Transportation Sectors only to see them being replaced by minimum wage, part time employment in the Leisure and Hospitality Sector. At current rates, Oregon will never again reach the equivalent peak employment participation level reached immediately prior to the Bush/Obama recession. And last but not least, the average family income (in constant dollars) continues to decline.

To make sure that Oregonians recognize that it “isn’t Mr. Kitzhaber’s fault” his Department of Employment (a somewhat fatuous title) delivered up a report which the Oregonian re-wrote as if it were an “in depth” review of the problem. The DOE report and the Oregonian article begged additional questions but none were forthcoming. But that’s what happens when journalism becomes so invested in the furtherance of liberal policies that it morphs from investigative to ingratiating. The DOE press release places primary blame on the higher than average population growth in Oregon.

  • Oregon has grown 21 percent since 1996, four percentage points faster than the nation as a whole. If population growth had matched the national pace, the gap between Oregon and U.S. incomes would have been about a third smaller.
  • The state tends to have a shorter workweek, and more people are working part-time than is true nationwide. Oregon had the fourth highest-share of people working part-time jobs in last year.
  • Lower-wage jobs typically pay more in Oregon, but the same is not true for high-wage occupations. Management-level jobs, for instance, pay 11 percent less in on average in Oregon than nationally.
  • The unemployment rate is persistently higher than the national average.
  • The state has a slightly higher share of people running their own businesses. Proprietors in Oregon earn only 72 percent of the national average.
  • Thousands of Oregon workers actually live in Washington (or, to a lesser extent, Idaho, Nevada or California), taking their wages back to their home state. Workers living outside Oregon made up seven percent of the its workforce in 2011.


In point of fact, none of these are “excuses” but rather corollaries of the same basic truth – Oregon, under thirty years of Democrat administrations, trails the rest of the nation economically. Unemployment is higher, workforce participation is lower, job creation does not keep pace with population growth, average household income is lower, educational achievement is falling (actually and comparatively) and welfare rolls are growing.

An aggressive press corps would ask why. An aggressive press corps would have asked Mr. Kitzhaber to detail the steps he took in his first term to deal with Oregon’s declining economy. An aggressive press corps would have asked Mr. Kitzhaber to detail the steps he took in his second term to deal with Oregon’s declining economy. An aggressive press corps would have asked Mr. Kitzhaber after his pronouncement that Oregon was not governable to detail the steps he would take to take in his third term to address Oregon’s declining economy. And an aggressive press corps would ask Mr. Kitzhaber to detail the steps he has taken in his third term to deal with Oregon’s declining economy.

But the questions don’t end there. Should Mr. Kitzhaber provide a response – other than “it’s not my fault” – the questions should then ask what he did to implement those steps, what were the results of those steps, and how they related to either short term or long term economic improvement. Additional questions should be asked:

  • Why the welfare rolls have exploded?
  • Why the pubic employee unions continue to expand and their financial status grow while the rest of Oregon declines?
  • How much Oregon has spent in tax dollars in support of uneconomical alternative energy projects?
  • How much have Oregon energy ratepayers been required to pay to subsidize alternative energy projects when cheaper, reliable and sustainable sources are readily available?
  • How many jobs have been lost because of state government resistance to expansion of carbon based fuels (coal, oil, natural gas and LPG)?
  • How many miles of expanded roadways have been constructed to alleviate congestion on I-5, I-84, and US-26?
  • How many pages of additional rules and regulations on business have been adopted in Mr. Kitzhaber’s nearly twelve years as governor?
  • What is the total unfunded future liability for PERS that now faces Oregon taxpayers for government at all levels?
  • What is the total unfunded future liability for public employee healthcare that now faces Oregon taxpayers for government at all levels?
  • And finally, when do the broad glittering generalities stop and real demonstrable and measurable improvement begin?

The basic question is whether Oregon should elect leaders that continue the march towards a welfare state while either ignoring or paying lip service to real economic growth. If that is the case, Oregon can expect the continuing increase in inward migration of those without jobs or skills, and the outward migration of those with wealth and job creation capacity. Mr. Kitzhaber has squandered twelve years as Oregon’s chief executive – in any other role (except a monopoly) Mr. Kitzhaber would have been terminated years ago.