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. Construction employs eight percent of all workers in Portland Metro and represents eleven percent of all initial unemployment claims filed since March 15, 2020. During that period, more than 90,500 initial unemployment claims have been filed by Construction workers in Oregon, including 21,700 in Portland Metro. (Table 1) This represents fifty percent of the 2019 workforce.
Construction, however, is a cyclical industry. It is much for common for construction works to file for unemployment benefits during annual downturns in production than for workers in other industries. Other measures show that the impact of the COVID-19 economic crisis on Construction has been small.
In September 2021, there were 3,900 more Construction jobs in the Portland MSA than there had been in September 2019. (Table 2) Job gains were spread throughout the industry. Of the two hundred seventy-five occupations included in Construction, one hundred and twenty-six employed more workers in 2021 than in 2019. Another one hundred nineteen occupations employed fewer workers. The largest occupations, Carpenters, Electricians, and Construction Laborers, experienced losses of two percent, six percent, and one percent, respectively. (Table 3)
There are some positive signs. Employment in this sector has steadily risen since December 2020. The growth continued throughout the summer. More than a year after the pandemic began, demand for workers is strong. Between August and September 2021 job postings the top ten Construction occupations were up between four and four hundred seventy-five percent from the same period last year. (Table 3)
Construction is a cyclical industry, with dramatic booms (1990s, mid-2000s) and busts (Great Recession). It was one of the hardest-hit industries in the recession, losing 11,000 jobs, or nearly one-third of its employment base. Since turning the corner in 2010 it’s regained 14,700 jobs, growing significantly faster than the rest of the economy and outpacing its national counterpart two-to-one.
In 2021, nearly forty-four thousand people in Multnomah and Washington counties worked in construction. Roughly 150 occupations are found within the sector. Many of the largest occupations are relatively unique to the sector and not often found elsewhere in the economy (e.g. carpenters, plumbers, painters). (Table 4) Occupations in this sector tend to be middle wage. Sixty-two percent of jobs in the industry pay a median wage between the 25th and 75th percentile of the regional median wage. (Table 5)
Educational requirements range from less than a high school diploma to a Bachelor’s degree, although the need for a college education is the exception rather than the rule: Three-quarters of the sector’s occupations, which account for over 80 percent of its current workforce, require no more than a high school diploma. On the other end of the spectrum, fewer than fifteen percent required a bachelor’s degree (5,981). (Table 6)
Workers in this sector tend to be slightly older than the total workforce. In 2021, sixty-nine percent of Construction workers were 35 years old or older, compared to sixty-six percent of all workers in Portland Metro. (Table 7) White and Hispanic or Latino workers are overrepresented in this sector while other workers of color are underrepresented. (Table 8)
Prior to the pandemic, Portland Metro’s Construction sector was expected to expand by more than 10,000 jobs between 2017 and 2027 for a growth rate of twenty-six percent; faster than the overall economy. Growth factors included an expanding population and solid growth across the rest of the economy which would lead to more commercial and industrial projects and construction work.
Construction was expected to add 7,441 new jobs between 2018 and 2028. As with advanced manufacturing, construction has an older workforce relative to other industries; retirements will be a major factor over the coming decade.