Where the jobs and workers are

Labor markets and housing prices have shaped where middle-wage employees work and live. Workers with some college or other post-secondary training, but no degree, are a reasonable proxy for middle-income workers (although some middle-income occupations require a four-year degree). A look at jobs reports and census data provide a good picture of where middle-income workers actually work and where they live.


The term “workforce housing” typically refers to ownership of multi-family housing units that are affordable to middle-income wage earners, and are located with convenient access to middle-income jobs. Having workforce housing that is affordable and available to support middle-income earners should be a key component of any strategy to attract and retain middle-income jobs.

In Portland-metro, middle-income jobs tend to be found in industries such as construction, health care, support services, teaching, transportation/warehousing, manufacturing and retail trade. Many of these industries are forecasted to continue to grow in the years ahead, providing opportunities for Portlandmetro workers.

Historically, many of these industries generating middle-income jobs have tended to concentrate in certain areas of the region. Figure 13 shows they are along the Willamette and Columbia rivers in areas traditionally occupied by industry; adjacent to Highways 26 and 217, where technology-based industries have grown up; around major medical centers, which have seen steady job growth; and in Clark County, where job centers and residents have grown significantly over the last three decades. These also are areas that have had sufficient supplies of industrial land to accommodate growing industries and access to efficient transportation systems for workers, freight and customers. Looking ahead, a question facing the region will be whether those areas will continue to be able to accommodate middle-income job growth and retention, and whether there will be new areas for these jobs to grow.

In contrast, Figure 14 shows that Portland-metro’s middle-income workers do not live where they work. A reduced availability of middle-income jobs, combined with stagnant incomes and a higher cost of living, have steadily pushed Portland-metro’s middle-income workers out of the urban core. Today, middle-income workers live where homes are relatively more affordable, predominantly east of I-205, in outer Washington County and in Clark County. Aside from being a problem for workers who want to live close to where they work, this mismatch of job and residence locations raises questions about the availability of workforce housing and a transportation system capable of getting people to and from their jobs.