Weekly data from the Oregon Employment Department help us understand the impact of COVID-19 on the labor market. Since the beginning of the economic shutdown, workers in Portland Metro have filed more than 167,554 initial unemployment claims. This includes 5,140 transportation and warehousing workers, representing sixteen percent of the industry’s total workforce. (Table 1) The sector employs three percent of all workers in Portland Metro and represents three percent of all initial unemployment claims filed since March 15, 2020.
In Portland Metro, continued unemployment claims for this sector peaked at 2,285 in June. By August, the number of continued claims had decreased to 1,577. (Table 1a) This is likely a combination of workers returning to employment and others running out of benefits.
These numbers do not represent all workers who have lost their jobs. 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.
Transportation and Warehousing jobs peaked in January. By the low point (April for Oregon and May for the Portland MSA), the number jobs had declined thirteen percent in the MSA and nine percent in Oregon. By August, many of those jobs had retuned but employment levels remained below the peak: ninety-four percent in Oregon and eighty-two percent in the Portland MSA. (Table 2)
Demand for workers continues to be low. Between July and August, job postings for the top ten transportation and warehousing occupations were down between fifteen and seventy-five percent from the previous period last year. (Table 3)
In 2019, more than 34,000 people in Multnomah and Washington Counties were employed in transportation and warehousing. More than thirty percent of workers in this sector are employed in the two largest occupations: heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers and laborers, and freight, stock, and material movers, hand. (Table 4)
Occupations in this sector tend to be middle wage. Sixty-eight percent of jobs in the industry pay a median wage between the 25th and 75th percentile of the regional median wage. (Table 5)
Nearly 400 occupations are found within the transportation and warehousing sector. Educational requirements range from less than a high school diploma to a bachelor’s degree. Thirty-one percent of the sector’s occupations, which account for forty-four percent of its current workforce, require a bachelor’s degree or higher. On the other end of the spectrum, fewer than fifteen percent required no formal education. (Table 6)
The transportation and warehousing sector includes industries providing transportation of passengers and cargo, warehousing and storage for goods, scenic and sightseeing transportation, and support activities related to modes of transportation.
The four largest occupations in this sector, which account for 43 percent of total employment, are all at high risk of automation. The Automation Index measures the potential for automation of common tasks within a given profession. On this scale 100 is average. An occupation with a score of 120 or more has a high risk of automation and anything above 130 has a very high risk of automation. Over time, the way work is organized and performed in these occupations will chance at an accelerated rate. This will lead to occupations shrinking from attrition and reduced hiring.