Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Trending Topic: Pumping Your Own Gas in Oregon

It all began with an article in The Oregonian, asking why Oregonians can't pump their own gas. The article notes that the most cited justification for the law is that it creates jobs.

The Oregonian article references a recent post from the Oregon Economics blog, entitled "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Self-Service Gas." In the post, Professor Emerson takes the stance that banning self-service gas "is an unnecessary regulation, and a costly one: it costs every Oregonian in time and money." Using Washington as a comparison state, Emerson concludes that station attendants add between three and five cents additional cost per gallon to the prices Oregonians pay at the pump. He offers a detailed chart to support his position, citing an employment count of 9,810 at gasoline stations across Oregon.

The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis (OEA) continued the dialogue on their blog. In the OEA post, "Self-Service Gas and Taxes", Josh Lehner notes that if Oregon had the same number of gas station employees per capita as Washington, Oregon would have 2,407 less employees (a hypothetical 7,403 instead of the current 9,810). He continues on to say that "under such a scenario, Oregon would have more competition (more stations), less employment (and less total wages paid to employees), which, in a competitive market, would lead to slightly lower gas prices. However, the likely movement in gas prices at the pump would be a few cents per gallon."

While the Oregon Employment Department offers no opinion on this topic, we found some additional information to add to the conversation. The posts from the Oregon Economics blog and the Office of Economic Analysis each reference private-sector employment for gas stations in 2010. That figure includes cashiers, managers, and other workers at gas stations, rather than the gas station attendants alone. Moreover, the 9,810 employment figure excludes gas station attendants at Safeway, Costco, or other establishments that have gas stations, but not as their primary source of business.

The Oregon Employment Department released estimates in January that show the employment of all service station attendants, regardless of the industry where they're employed. That employment estimate totals 7,765 automotive and watercraft service attendants -- which includes gas station attendants -- across Oregon in 2010. Automotive and watercraft service attendants include those who service automobiles, buses, boats, and other vehicles with fuel, lubricants, and accessories. In other words, this occupation includes workers who pump gas, change oil, and some other related jobs as well.

To target gas station attendants, we looked at only those working in the retail and wholesale trade sectors. Our friends and counterparts at the Employment Security Department in Washington provided us with their count of service attendants in the same retail and wholesale businesses. As a result, we found that Oregon had about 5,740 gas station attendants in 2010, while Washington had 523. That translates to about 5,200 more gas station attendants in Oregon than Washington.

If self-service gasoline applied to Oregon, and our state had the same share of gas station attendants in the overall population as Washington, we estimate there would be about 5,400 fewer gas station attendants in Oregon.

For more information on Oregon's employment by occupation in 2010, you can read our latest employment projections publication, or a summary article, written by our occupational economist, Brenda Turner.

For more on the self-service gasoline discussion, visit the Oregon Economics blog, the OEA blog, or check out the related article from The Oregonian. The Oregon Employment Department also has an article co-authored in 2011 by Research Analyst Jason Payton and Economic Analyst Dwayne Stevenson that discusses service station attendants.

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