Written in collaboration with Molly Young
Portland may attract more twenty-somethings, but a new study shows Salem has the edge on one key demographic trend.
The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis found that Salem’s higher-than-average youth population means the metro area’s workforce could grow faster than Portland’s or the state’s overall.
While there’s no guarantee young people will remain in Salem after they finish school, the capital city’s job base is growing in a way that could encourage them to stay.
“Salem is in the midst of a job-growth boom that hasn’t been seen in 25 years,” said Josh Lehner, a senior economist who wrote the report.
Lehner looked at American Community Survey data and compared population distribution by age in Salem, Portland and Oregon as a whole. He found Salem has a higher percentage of children and teens than was true in the other geographic areas. Those children will be entering the workforce over the next two decades.
That trend is behind the Salem area’s high ranking when it comes to potential labor force growth. State forecasts show the metro labor force could expand 1.2 percent over the five years ending in 2020, while the state’s potential tops out at 0.8 percent.
“Salem really does have great demographics for potential future growth,” Lehner said.
He noted two key caveats: young adults need to stay, and there needs to be enough jobs for them. Otherwise, the workers will commute or move.
As Salem’s youth population grows, more programs in the area are geared toward training future workers.
This school year, Salem-Keizer Public Schools opened the Career and Technical Education Center, a program that centralizes the district’s technical-education classes. Students who attend district high schools can study construction and manufacturing programs at CTEC at the same time. The district plans to expand the class offerings over the next five years.
Chad Freeman, who leads the Strategic Economic Development Corporation in Salem, said businesses are already hiring students out of CTEC. Getting people into the workforce with as many skills as possible drives the training initiatives, Freeman said.
As more young people enter the workforce and baby boomers retire, there is a push in the business community to recruit and train new workers, Freeman said.
There are more jobs now for young workers to fill. Salem is gaining jobs at a fastest rate since the 1990s.
The recession stalled Salem’s high-wage job growth, but didn’t trim the number of high-paying jobs that already existed, unlike other places in the state, Lehner said. During the recovery, higher-paying sectors expanded more quickly than middle-wage industries. So, too, did low-wage work in agriculture, food preparation and retail.
“We’re at this point now today where the middle-wage jobs are starting to come back,” Lehner said, in reference to industries such as education and construction.
Oregon Employment Department data shows the two industries that grew the most in Salem over the past year are construction on one hand and professional and business services on the other, an umbrella category that covers everything from accounting to software firms. The latter grew 7 percent, or by 900 jobs, while the former expanded 5 percent, or by 400 jobs. Overall, the metro area labor force grew 3 percent to more than 190,000 people.
“A much stronger economy is starting to result in more opportunities across the board,” Lehner said.