November 16, 2003
It's hard to make ends meet and support a family when you earn just $8.50 or $9 an hour.
But jobs paying much more are hard to find in Lane County, particularly for people with minimal education or training.
The days when high school graduates could head to the forests or mills and make a living wage are long gone. Now, schooling and skills are key.
"Things have really switched around," said Bill Conerly, a Portland economist. "Now it's a tough job market for the low-skilled."
Since the 1970s, Oregon has been shifting away from higher-paying manufacturing jobs toward lower-pay retail and service jobs, said Brian Rooney, a labor economist with the state Employment Department.
The move is part of a nationwide trend away from production, as manufacturers head overseas to take advantage of lower labor costs and lax environmental laws. Technology also has played a big role, helping U.S. factories produce more with less labor.
The growth in lower-wage jobs - taking place as housing and other costs have soared - is partly to blame for the state's high hunger rating, experts say.
In Lane County, the decline of the wood products industry accounts for much of the slide in better-paying low-skill jobs. Job growth in high-tech and recreational vehicle manufacturing have helped offset those losses, but at lower wages.
"High-tech production jobs here in Lane County don't pay as well as the lumber and wood products jobs we had back in the '80s," Rooney said.
Between 1991 and 2002, employment in the low-paying service sector grew almost 50 percent in Lane County, according to Employment Department figures. Retail jobs grew 20 percent in the same period. Manufacturing grew by only 10.6 percent. The shift has caused pay to be eroded by inflation.
Lane County's average annual wage in 2002 was $29,427. The 1976 average wage was $10,400. Adjust the 1976 wage for inflation, and it equals $32,882 in 2002 dollars, according to the Employment Department. So real average wages have actually declined by $3,455, or 10.5 percent, since 1976.
Bringing higher-wage jobs to Oregon is the best way to reduce poverty and hunger, experts agree.
But Oregon's job market seems headed in the opposite direction, with much of the new job creation in the next decade expected to occur in lower-paying service fields.
The Employment Department projects that one in five job openings from 2002 to 2012 will be in service jobs, such as restaurant or janitorial work.
Occupations with the most total job openings forecast for 2002-2012 include retail sales with 27,944 openings; cashiers at 21,405; food preparation workers at 18,529; and waiters and waitresses at 17,804.