Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Where Have All the Construction Workers Gone?

Between 2001 and 2007, Oregon saw a dramatic increase (29%) in employment in all sectors of the construction industry. Over the same time, total nonfarm payroll employment in the state grew roughly 8 percent.

The number of Oregon contractor licenses does not reflect this trend of dramatic employment growth. Between July 2001 and July 2007, the total number of contractor licenses in Oregon grew less than 1 percent. The slow growth in licenses, however, is reflected in the increasing number of employees per construction firm. The number of workers per firm increased from 6 to 6.6 over that seven-year time period.

Between 2007 and 2009, total employment in Oregon fell dramatically (nearly 7%). In the construction industry, more than 30,000 jobs were eliminated - a loss of 29 percent. No other Oregon industry had employment losses anywhere near the percentage of jobs lost in construction. The state recorded 2,050 fewer construction firms in 2009 than in 2007 (-13.1%) and the average number of workers per firm dropped to 5.3.

By the 3rd quarter of 2009, only 47 percent of those who were working in construction in 3rd quarter 2007 were still employed in the industry. Another 18 percent were working in other industries and a whopping 35 percent were not recorded in Oregon wage records. The 18 percent who have found employment in other industries appear to be the lucky ones. That 35 percent who were not recorded in Oregon wage records were either no longer in Oregon or were unemployed and not receiving wages.

While it appears for the moment that construction employment hit bottom in the first half of 2010 along with the economy in general, the industry is not expected to ramp up rapidly. Oregon's Office of Economic Analysis projects that by the end of 2017, construction employment will once again reach 80,000 - far below the 2007 peak of more than 100,000 jobs.

For additional, detailed statewide analysis of Oregon's construction industry, read the full article written by Regional Economist Carolyn Eagan (, 541-388-6442).

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