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. Healthcare and Social Assistance employs twelve percent of all workers in Portland Metro and represents thirteen percent of all initial unemployment claims since the beginning of the economic crisis. During that period, more than 100,000 initial unemployment claims have been filed by Healthcare and Social Assistance workers in Oregon, including 31,800 in Portland Metro. (Table 1) This represents thirty-two percent of the 2019 workforce.
In September 2021, there were 5,100 fewer Healthcare and Social Assistance jobs in the Portland MSA than there had been in September 2019. (Table 2) Job losses were not widespread throughout the industry. Of the three hundred sixty-one occupations included in Healthcare and Social Assistance, one hundred and forty-eight (41%) employed fewer workers in 2021 than in 2019. The largest occupations, Registered Nurses and Home Health and Personal Care Aides, experienced gains of one percent, fourteen percent, respectively. (Table 3)
There are positive signs. Employment in this sector rose steadily between April 2020 and April 2021, with a slight decline in May. The growth continued throughout the summer. More than a year after the pandemic began, demand for workers has returned. Between August and September 2021, job postings for eight of the top ten Healthcare and Social Assistance occupations were up between twelve and one hundred fifty-four percent from the same period during the previous year. (Table 4)
Healthcare has been a key driver of employment growth at both the national and local level. It has added jobs every year over the past decade, even throughout the recession- the only major industry to do so. Employers created 11,373 new jobs between 2008 and 2018 for a growth rate of 22 percent; over twice as fast as the overall economy. The ambulatory care component (e.g. doctors’ offices) led growth.
The healthcare sector includes hospitals, offices of physicians, dentists and other Healthcare providers, outpatient health clinics, and nursing and residential care facilities. The social assistance sector includes Individual and Family Services, Community Food and Housing, and Emergency and Other Relief Services, Vocational Rehabilitation Services, and Child Day Care Services. With 108,755 jobs and a payroll of $7.5 billion (2019), the sector accounts for 13 percent of Portland Metro’s private-sector employment and 10 percent of payroll.
In 2021, more than 100,000 people in Multnomah and Washington Counties were employed in Healthcare and Social Assistance. The industry includes three hundred sixty-two occupations. The 10 largest occupations, headed by registered nurses, account for nearly half of total employment. (Table 4)
Occupations in this sector tend to be middle wage. The median wage for more than half of the occupations in this sector were between the 26th and 75th percentile for all wages in the region. (Table 5) Wages averaged $63,100 in 2019, about the same as the overall economy. Higher wages in ambulatory care ($87,900) and hospitals ($87,300) were partially offset by low wages in nursing and residential care ($42,030), and social assistance ($31,500).
Educational requirements range from less than a high school diploma to a Doctoral or professional degree, although the need for a college education is more prevalent in Healthcare compared to the overall economy. Three out of ten of the sector’s largest occupations, which account for sixteen percent of its current workforce, require a bachelor’s degree or higher. (Table 6)
Workers of color, in particular Black or African American and Asian workers, are overrepresented in healthcare and social assistance. Black or African American workers are four percent of the labor force but hold six percent of healthcare and social assistance jobs. (Table 8) Slightly more than half of workers in this sector are female (55%).