Most jobs in Oregon are poor-quality jobs
On the eve of the pandemic, at a time when Oregon enjoyed one of the strongest job markets on record, more than half of all jobs in the state paid too little to adequately support a family. Many of those jobs also failed to offer enough hours of work or benefits like health insurance, according to a new report by the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP).
“The fact that so many jobs are poor-quality jobs helps explains why economic insecurity is so widespread,” said OCPP Senior Policy Analyst Janet Bauer. “The state should do all it can to improve the quality of jobs, to elevate the well-being of Oregonians.”
For a family of two or more to afford basic necessities, a job needed to pay above $20 per hour in 2019, according to OCPP. But the research institute found that about 55 percent of all jobs in Oregon that year paid less than $20 per hour. And a full third of all jobs in the state paid less than $15 an hour.
Some Oregon communities were more likely to labor in jobs that pay low wages. Historical and current racist structures often relegate Black and brown workers to lower-paying jobs, while workplace discrimination denies them better job opportunities, the report said. OCPP also found that jobs in rural areas were more likely to pay too little to make ends meet, compared to jobs in urban areas.
Low-paying jobs were concentrated in particular industries. Nearly half of the one million jobs in Oregon paying less than $15 an hour were in the leisure and hospitality industry — restaurants, hotels, and the like — and the retail industry.
While pay increases have garnered headlines in recent months, that development does not change the fact that many jobs pay too little, according to Bauer. “As welcome as the recent wage increases are, we know that the rising cost of living offsets some of the benefits,” she said. “But more importantly, the current wage increases are nowhere near what’s required to allow many workers to make ends meet.”
Besides contending with low pay, many workers also labor in jobs that offer too few hours of work, no health insurance, and come with unpredictable work schedules that wreak havoc on family life, the report said.
Part-time workers, in particular, endure difficult working conditions, the report found. Many who work part time do so involuntarily, because the job fails to provide enough work hours, Bauer said. Part-time workers are more likely to get paid low wages and lack benefits like health insurance.
The report offered a series of recommendations for how the state can improve the quality of jobs. They included policies that improve workers’ ability to negotiate for better pay and working conditions, boost worker incomes, and make basic needs more affordable.
“The prevalence of poor-quality jobs is at the heart of what ails many Oregon families,” Bauer said. “The Oregon legislature has a duty to implement policies that lift up all Oregonians.”
The Oregon Center for Public Policy is a non-partisan, non-profit institute that does in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues. The Center’s goal is to improve decision making and generate more opportunities for all Oregonians.