Unemployment and Underemployment


The chart for the region’s unemployment is striking. Peaking between May and June of 2009, the region’s unemployment has closely followed state and federal trends. With the exception of a bump between May and December of 2016, the overall trend with unemployment has been a steady decline. In December 2016, the Portland Metro's rate of 4.3% was the second lowest it has been since June of 2008.

When we look to employment by groups, some clear trends emerge. American Indian (14.9%) and Black (16.0%) unemployment rates are the highest, with Asian unemployment (6.4%) as the lowest rates among any racial group. Unemployment rates are drastically higher among individuals age 16 to 19 (27.0%) and 20 to 24 (14.7%). For other age groups, they range from 75 years and over having the lowest rate (5.7%) to individuals age 25 to 29 (9.0%).

For unemployment by educational attainment, it is important to keep in mind the metric being tracked. While we see a strong connection between further education correlating with lower rates of unemployment, that doesn’t address the quality of employment individuals have. This is discussed in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ work around alternative measurements of labor underutilization. BLS includes involuntary part-time and discouraged workers as groups not captured in unemployment numbers, but important to understanding the greater state of employment in a region. Underemployment has become a prominent topic since the great recession, with references made frequently to the impact it has on different community’s economic wellbeing.

Since the recession, the Portland metro has experienced a much stronger recovery when looking at the State of Oregon as a whole. The region now has 9% more jobs than it did before the recession. This sits a bit differently when looking to Washington which had a less severe unemployment spike during the recession. As we look forward, we can expect these conversations around unemployment to remain prominent, even as greater interests builds around underemployment and other metrics of economic opportunity.