Global trends and technology have impacted jobs and wages in Portland-metro and across the U.S. As jobs at the high and low ends have grown, middle-income jobs, as a share of the regionís overall employment base, have declined and wages have stagnated. This has had a direct impact on the regionís families and their perception of economic opportunity.
Policy makers could shrug and say this is a national, even international, trend, and there is not much the Portland-metro can do to change direction. But thatís untrue. The regionís broad posture on economic and population growth will be a key determinant of the future of middle-income employment. Growth drives demand for construction, education, and health care workersómany in middle-income occupations that are less prone to technological replacement.
Given that the region is expected to grow under all forecasts, Portland has better prospects for middle-income job growth than a slow-growing city like Cleveland. Policy makers routinely consider actions that influence the rate of population growth, and those indirectly affect the outlook for the middle-income labor market. Beyond the regionís broad perspective on population growth, several policy areas should be prioritized. These include:
Technological advances will continue to eliminate routine work, impacting jobs. Regions that invest in educational and training programs that prepare workers for a more technology-based future will have a greater opportunity to retain and attract valuable jobs that support families.
Employers, educators and students must strengthen collaboration around high-demand skills that offer pathways to the middle class and beyond. Greater emphasis must be placed on closing the education achievement gap to ensure all future workers, including underserved groups, have equal access to better-paying jobs that can support families.
Protection of existing job corridors
Quality middle-income jobs continue to exist in areas that traditionally have been home to heavy industry, including along the Columbia and Willamette rivers. Regulatory policies that impact those companiesí ability to maintain operations and grow should be carefully weighed against the need to protect middle-income jobs in Portland-metro.
For Portland-metro, trade expansion means job growth. Portland is one of the most trade-dependent regions in the country, with particularly strong relationships with Asia. As those countries develop, and trade agreements pave the way for more opportunities, Oregonís economy will grow. Trade-related jobs, especially in the manufacturing sector, are prime sources for middle incomes. Just as important, those sectors support local-service industries that are a significant generator of middle-income jobs: manufacturing, education, health care and others.
Facilitation of growth corridors
Middle-income jobs are growing in tech centers on the western end of the region and around medical centers. It is important to understand the factors that support growth and develop policies that nurture these growing job centers.
Many of the regionís middle-income jobs congregate along rivers and key interstates. It is clear that infrastructure maintenance and development is critical to retain and grow middle-income jobs. Policy leaders should focus on ensuring that the regionís port thrives and highway congestion points are addressed.
Development of workforce housing must be a top priority, especially in the city of Portland, which has become unaffordable for most middle-income families seeking to buy a home.
All of those policy areas have been identified in past Value of Jobs reports, but this report, with its analysis of the pressures on Portland-metroís middle-income sector, shows the need for greater urgency to act. If Portland-metro is to avoid the fate of other regions, like New York and San Francisco, where income disparities are a daily fact of life, the time is now to take steps to create an environment where middle-income jobs can grow and thrive, and the workers in those jobs can afford to own a home.