New data from the Oregon Employment Department show the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the labor market. During the past seven weeks, workers filed nearly 90,000 initial unemployment claims in Portland Metro. This includes 4,394 construction workers, representing 10 percent of the industry’s total workforce. The sector employs 5 percent of all workers in Portland Metro and represents 5 percent of all initial unemployment claims in the past seven weeks.
These numbers do not represent all construction workers who have lost their jobs. Faced with unprecedented demand, the unemployment insurance system currently has a backlog of claims. Not all workers are eligible for unemployment, including workers who did meet the threshold for hours worked during the past five quarters and undocumented immigrants.
Construction is a cyclical industry, with dramatic booms (1990s, mid-2000s) and busts (Great Recession). It was one of the hardest-hit industries in the recession, losing 11,000 jobs, or nearly one-third of its employment base. Since turning the corner in 2010 it’s regained 14,700 jobs, growing significantly faster than the rest of the economy and outpacing its national counterpart two-to-one.
Roughly 150 occupations are found within Construction. Many of the largest occupations are relatively unique to the sector and not often found elsewhere in the economy (e.g. carpenters, plumbers, painters). Educational requirements range from less than a high school diploma to a Bachelor’s degree, although the need for a college education is the exception rather than the rule: Three-quarters of the sector’s occupations, which account for over 80 percent of its current workforce, require no more than a high school diploma. On the other end of the spectrum, fewer than 15 percent required a Bachelor’s degree (5,981).
Occupations in this sector tend to be middle-wage. Sixty-two percent of jobs in the industry pay a median wage between the 25th and 75th percentile of the regional median wage.
Prior to the pandemic, Portland Metro’s Construction sector was expected to expand by more than 10,000 jobs between 2017 and 2027 for a growth rate of 26 percent; faster than the overall economy. Growth factors included an expanding population and solid growth across the rest of the economy which would lead to more commercial and industrial projects and Construction work.
Construction was expected to add 7,441 new jobs between 2018 and 2028. As with Advanced Manufacturing, Construction has an older workforce relative to other industries; retirements will be a major factor over the coming decade.