Portland middle-income jobs drop as costs rise

Portland-business-alWhere are the jobs that support Portland families?
By Mitch Hornecker
Chair Portland Business Alliance

Here at the Alliance, our first priority is to support our members. We do that through advocacy on issues that impact all of our businesses, and we do our best to make sure that Portland-metro is a place where private-sector jobs can grow and thrive. As I mentioned in my last column, our work this year will be rooted in growing and retaining middle-wage jobs.

Portland, like most regions of the U.S., is experiencing a decline in middle-income jobs, contributing to income disparity in the region amidst increases in costs of living.

This is concerning, as these are the jobs that support families and are the backbone of our economy.

When we talk about middle-wage jobs, we’re talking about jobs typically found in areas like construction, manufacturing, education and retail. Construction in particular is often misperceived as a career that only provides temporary jobs. While this sector has always been rooted in project-based work, that doesn’t mean that the jobs it provides aren’t good, family-wage jobs.
The Oregon State Building & Construction Trades Council plays a big role in supporting the construction and manufacturing industry by providing a skilled workforce. As an employer of construction workers, I know firsthand that this is a really important piece of our ability to be successful and complete projects on time. The Oregon State Building & Construction Trades Council represents 25,000 workers, and is an intricate part of our region’s workforce, economy and future economic prosperity. I’d like to congratulate them on their 75th anniversary, and thank their Executive Secretary, John Mohlis, for his years of partnership with the business community. Both have been tireless advocates for construction workers across our state and great partners of the Alliance.

When we look at how we need to be addressing middle-income job loss, manufacturing is another industry where we should focus on growing and retaining middle-wage jobs. A past Value of Jobs study has shown people of color and those who don’t speak English at home can earn up to 50 percent more in manufacturing than other jobs. Manufacturing, as well as construction, are good industries for workers with different education attainment levels. There is mounting evidence that a four-year college degree isn’t the best way to prepare everyone for the workforce. Governments are trying to ramp up career-focused vocational education systems – like apprenticeships, which the Oregon State Building & Construction Trades Council have long provided. For many, apprenticeships are a path to a job that can lead to a career that can support a family.

As part of our work to grow middle-wage jobs in the region, it’s important that we work together in identifying proactive steps that can be taken to make Portland-metro a place where middle-income families can thrive. That includes collaboration between employers, educators and students around high-demand skills – like construction and manufacturing – that offer pathways to the middle class and beyond.

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