Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Labor Force Participation Rates in Oregon's Counties

The labor force participation rate calculates the percent of the population ages 16 or older who are either employed or unemployed.  This rate reached its peak in 1998 when 68.9 percent of Oregonians participated in the labor force.  During the early 2000s, the rate began to drop.  In 2005, the rate was 65.7 percent, in 2008 it was 63.4 percent, and in 2013 it was 61.4 percent.

Among counties in Oregon, this rate varies drastically. To get an idea for how much it varies, compare Curry County at 45.2 percent with Hood River County at 81.8 percent. Fifteen counties were at or above the statewide labor force participation rate of 61.4 percent, while 21 counties were below.  

In the graph below, dark blue is better - it means the labor force participation rate was higher. In general, we see more dark blue in the north. There are a number of factors at play encouraging more participation in the northern counties.  

First, counties with younger populations and stronger economies tend to have higher labor force participation rates. This is the general case with the northern counties. In addition to lower unemployment rates and a younger demographic, counties along the Columbia Gorge (Hood River, Wasco, Sherman, and Gilliam counties) saw rapid growth in their labor force from 2007 to 2012 from call centers, wind farms, and the manufacturing of military planes across the river in Washington.

On the flip side, counties with lower labor force participation rates (and higher unemployment rates) are associated with an older population. Often times, these counties also see younger workers moving away for job opportunities elsewhere. These are counties like Baker (54.9% LFPR), Coos (46.2 %), Curry (53.6%), Harney (55.1%), Josephine (48.3%), and Klamath (55.0%).

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