Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The 1960s: Oregon’s Creative Decade

The 1960s were a vibrant and creative decade for Oregon when the accomplishments of notable Oregonians first brought us out of the woods and inspired the world. In 1962, Ken Kesey published One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Two years later, the iconoclastic Senator Wayne Morse, the first U.S. Senator to change political parties while in office, led the opposition to starting the Vietnam War. That same year, a small Eugene company sold 1,300 pairs of shoes labeled Nike out of the trunk of a car. In 1969, Steve Prefontaine joined the University of Oregon track team, beginning a career that would establish him as the greatest distance runner in history.

Those events helped define the Oregon we know today. Examining the economy in the 1960s may seem like a silly exercise in nostalgia. But, economists are often asked to peer into the crystal ball and forecast the conditions of the future. While no one can really know the future, we can look back at where we were decades ago and marvel at the changes that have occurred. By looking at the road we have traveled, perhaps we can gain some insight into the challenges we face in the decades ahead.


The Oregon we know today is much larger than it was 50 years ago. Our population was just 2 million people, half of what it is today. Oregon has a reputation for its lack of diversity. Today Portland, the largest city in Oregon, is the least diverse large city in the U.S., with 71 percent of the population identifying as white, non-Hispanic. But at the time of the 1970 U.S. Census, Oregon was much more homogeneous, with people of color representing only 4 percent of the state population.

Oregon is also well known for attracting migrants from around the United States. Most Americans live in the same state they were born in. However, in Oregon natives are a minority of the population. According to the 2014 U.S. Census, only 46 percent of Oregonians were born in Oregon. That makes Oregon one of only 14 states where natives are a minority.

Manufacturing Trends

In 1964, Oregon’s economy was dominated by the timber industry. A little more than half of all manufacturing jobs were in timber related sectors: lumber mills, paper mills and wood furniture. With about one out of six non-farm jobs in a factory or mill that processes wood, the timber industry was undoubtedly the most powerful force in the economy. In 2015, the wood product manufacturing sector employed 22,500 workers, representing about 12 percent of all manufacturing employment.

These days, the high-tech sector employs many more manufacturing workers than wood product manufacturing in Oregon. The high-tech sector of Oregon manufacturing in 1964 was small but emerging. Less than 5,000 people worked in the “Electric measuring instruments and test equipment” segment of manufacturing. 

To learn more about the demographics, manufacturing and income trends, read Workforce Analyst Christian Kaylor's article "The 1960s: Oregon's Creative Decade".

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