Wages provide the primary source of income for most people; as a result, wage distribution reveals the distribution of economic opportunity. If a large percentage of jobs pay wages that are low relative to living costs, then families cannot meet their basic needs without working multiple jobs.
Ten percent of the jobs in the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) paid $19,689 or less in 2012. This is just slightly higher than the federal poverty level of $19,530 for a family of three. Twenty-five percent of jobs paid $25,629 or less, which is lower than the poverty level for a family of five ($27,570). In 2012, the median wage for the Portland MSA was $38,430. Half the jobs paid $38,429 or less and half the jobs paid $38,430 or more. Seventy five percent of jobs paid $60,020 or less. Just ten percent of jobs in the MSA paid $89,610 or higher.
In 2012, ten percent of jobs in the Portland MSA paid $19,689 or less, a 1.1 percent increase from $19,468 in 2010. Twenty-five percent of jobs paid $25,630 or less, a 2.5 percent increase from $25,001 in 2010. Half of all jobs paid $38,429 or less, an increase of 3.6 percent from $38,430 in 2010. Seventy-five percent of jobs paid $60,020, a 4.2 percent increase from $57,595 in 2000. Ten percent of jobs paid $89,610, a 4.2 percent increase from $85,654 in 2010.
In 2011, twenty-five percent of jobs in the MSA paid $25,200 or less. That year, the Self-Sufficiency Wage for a family consisting of two adults, one infant and one preschooler, in the four greater Portland region counties were as follows: Clackamas $65,522, Clark $51,710, Multnomah $65,522 and Washington $72,062. If both adults in the family worked full time at a job in the seventy-fifth percentile, the family would not be able to make ends meet without extra income supports.
Wages in the Portland MSA have fallen relative to the rest of the nation’s metropolitan areas. Fewer than half of all jobs in the region pay a wage sufficient to support a family of three. Education and training programs are needed to prepare workers for higher paying jobs. Economic development initiatives can focus on recruiting employers that are a good fit for the local skill market and that pay self-sufficiency wages.
The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates for over 800 occupations. These estimates reflect the number of people employed in certain occupations and the wages paid to them. Self-employed persons are not included in the estimates. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas; national occupational estimates for specific industries are also available.
The federal poverty standard, developed in 1964, is often criticized as being an inadequate measure of financial stress. Dr. Diana Pearce of the University of Washington has developed a new measure, the Self-Sufficiency Standard. The Self-Sufficiency standard offers a more complete and realistic picture of the amount of income required to make ends meet. The standard varies according to a number of variables that affect a household’s cost of living. These variables include the cost of housing, transportation, childcare, food, health care, and taxes. The standard varies geographically and is calculated on a county-specific basis and reflects different costs by age of children.
The geography for wage distribution is the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) which includes Clackamas County, OR; Columbia County, OR; Multnomah County, OR; Washington County, OR; Yamhill County, OR; Clark County, WA; and Skamania County, WA. Please note that the geography used varies across different indicators.