Job growth in Portland Metro was steady throughout summer of 2021. By August, concern over the COVID-19 Delta Variant caused employment to plateau.

While employment has not reached the pre-pandemic peak, Portland Metro added 16,400 jobs between June 2020 and June 2021. The September 2021 unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in the past seventeen months.

The growth was not uniform across all economic sectors. Accommodations and Food Services employs nine percent of all workers in Portland Metro but represents nineteen percent of all initial unemployment claims since the beginning of the economic crisis. During that period, more than 140,300 initial unemployment claims have been filed by Accommodations and Food Service workers in Oregon, including 49,700 in Portland Metro. (Table 1) This represents sixty-seven percent of the 2019 workforce.

In September 2021, there were 20,600 fewer Accommodations and Food Services jobs in the Portland MSA than there had been in September 2019. (Table 2) Job losses were spread throughout the industry. Of the one hundred fifty-six occupations included in Accommodations and Food Services, one hundred and forty-nine employed fewer workers in 2021 than in 2019. The largest occupations, Fast Food and Counter Workers, Waiters and Waitresses, and Restaurant Cooks, experienced losses of eleven percent, thirty-two percent, and twenty-five percent, respectively. (Table 3)

Some of the lost jobs will not return. Nine of the fifteen largest occupations in Accommodations and Food Services (representing 63% of jobs), are at high risk of automation. Automation tends to accelerate during recessions. Coupled with an increase in take out and counter service restaurants, its likely many of these jobs are permanently lost.

There are some positive signs. Employment in this sector has steadily risen since December 2020. The growth is expected to continue throughout the summer. More than a year after the pandemic began, demand for workers has returned. Between August and September, job postings for the top ten Accommodations and Food Services occupations were up between twenty-six and eighty seven percent from the same period during the previous year. (Table 4)

The industry includes 158 occupations. Fifty-six percent of all workers are in the sector’s three largest occupations, Waiters and Waitresses, Fast Food and Counter Workers, and Restaurant Cooks. (Table 4)

Occupations in this sector tend to be low wage. The median wage for ninety-five percent of all occupations in this sector were below the regional median wage in 2019. Nearly fifty percent were in the tenth percentile with a median wage of less than $12.37/hr. (Table 5) More than 80% of jobs in Accommodations and Food Service do not require formal education. Less than three percent of all jobs in this industry require more than a high school diploma. (Table 6)

Workers in this sector tend to be younger than the total workforce. In 2020, more than half of Accommodations and Food Service workers were 14-35 years old, compared to thirty-three percent of all workers in Portland Metro. (Table 7) Workers of color, in particular Hispanic and Latino workers, are overrepresented in Accommodations and Food Services. Hispanic and Latino workers are eleven percent of the labor force but hold eighteen percent of Accommodations and Food Services jobs. (Table 8) Slightly more than half of workers in this sector are female (55%).


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