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Oregon jobs landscape shifting

SATURDAY, OCT. 26, 2013

PORTLAND – New research shows the number of middle-class jobs in Oregon is shrinking rapidly, while high-wage jobs and low-wage jobs are growing – and at a faster pace than those in the rest of the nation.

In Oregon, middle-class jobs were the hardest hit during recent economic downturns and have been the slowest to recover, according to a study released this week by Oregon’s Office of Economic Analysis.

In 1980, such middle-wage occupations represented 67.6 percent of all Oregon jobs. Three decades later, the share has fallen to 59.8 percent.

During that contraction, there have been gains at opposite ends of the pay scale, a trend known as job polarization. It has been shaping the U.S. labor market for three decades, but the Great Recession exacerbated the process.

Polarization means work is gradually shifting away from the types of factory, repair and office jobs that typically fall in the middle of the pay scale, with annual wages between $25,000 and $50,000.

And while most people still hold such middle-class jobs, experts predict job polarization will continue for years.

The trend is largely driven by technology – the use of computers, software or automated assembly lines – which allows workers to be more productive and allows companies to employ fewer of them.

Another factor is globalization, which leads to routine jobs being performed overseas.

Much of the polarization in Oregon occurred because its large manufacturing firms downsized. The dot-com bust and the Great Recession led to middle-class job loss.

Middle-class jobs made up 88 percent of the 137,000 jobs lost from 2008 to 2010 in the state – most of them in construction, production and administrative support occupations.

Low-wage jobs and higher-paid occupations rebounded faster after the recession.

More than half of the 40,000 jobs recovered from 2010 to 2012 were among occupations paying more than $50,000, according to the report.

The state’s high-paying job base expanded by about 7 percent during the two years after the recession, compared with about 5 percent growth nationwide.

And 15,000 of the jobs recovered after the recession were those that pay less than $25,000.

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