United Way of Columbia County located in Northwest Oregon helps support many social assistance programs. Programs include local senior citizen centers; emergency, low income housing and energy assistance providers; mental health, drug and alcohol intervention counselors; and local food banks, to name a few. Kathye Beck, Executive Director of the organization, states that, "The needs continue to increase. Right now organizations are just working to support basic needs for survival. Many who had never sought assistance in the past and who had in fact been previous donors to the organization are struggling to survive. Maybe they were downsized from a high-wage position and obtained a new job earning only one-fourth or one-half of their previous income while at the same time housing costs remain the same and food, gas, and utility costs have increased, so they seek out help. Some have lost their homes to foreclosure and been forced to take their pets to the animal shelter because they can no longer afford to keep them. It's very difficult."
Covered employment in the social assistance industry in Oregon has grown quickly in the past few years, from more than 46,000 in 2009 to 48,500 in the first three quarters of 2011 (up 5.5%). The industry contributed nearly $1.06 billion in payroll statewide. About 62 percent of its employment is in the private sector and 38 percent is in government. Covered employment counts only employees who are covered by unemployment insurance. The self employed also contribute significantly to this industry; there were 13,740 non-employer establishments in Oregon with $167 million in sales receipts in 2009 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Other individual and family services make up another 20 percent of social assistance industry employment with 9,364 jobs. Businesses in this sector include marriage and family counselors, mental health and addiction services providers, sexual assault and abuse crisis services, support groups, and more.
Vocational rehabilitation services includes organizations specializing in career counseling, developmental and cognitive disability services, apprenticeship and employment training programs, and occupational therapy. This group makes up about 14 percent of social assistance workers with 6,536 jobs.
Child and youth services (3,509 jobs) round out the top five sectors in the social assistance industry with 7.3 percent of the industry's employment. Although community food and housing services and emergency and other relief services do not have high concentrations of employment (2,171 jobs combined), the services they provide to Oregon residents are essential, especially during desperate times.
Private sector social assistance industry employment grew by 29 percent, from an annual average of 23,088 in 2001 to 29,735 in 2010. During the same time period, all of Oregon's private industries combined lost nearly 2 percent of their total employment.
Most workers in this industry didn't choose their positions because of the big paycheck. They do it because they want to help others. The 2010 average annual wage for Oregon's social assistance industry was $22,179, well below the state's average across all industries of $41,669. Only one of the top 10 social assistance occupations, social and community service manager, had a median wage higher ($56,701) than the state's average wage.
|10 Most Common Jobs in Oregon's Social Assistance Industry|
|Job Title||2010 Employment||2011 Median Hourly Wage|
|Preschool Teachers, Except Special Education||3,926||$11.09|
|Social and Human Service Assistants||1,899||$12.99|
|Child Care Workers||1,629||$9.50|
|Personal and Home Care Aides||1,326||$10.64|
|Child, Family, and School Social Workers||1,169||$19.11|
|Janitors and Cleaners||1,143||$11.44|
|Social and Community Service Managers||910||$25.88|
|Laborers and Freight, Stock, and Material Movers, Hand||825||$12.34|
Top 20 Most Requested Skills by Social Assistance Industry Businesses
- work as a team member
- use word processing software
- apply active listening techniques
- use email software
- use computers to enter, access, and retrieve data
- use spreadsheet software
- use correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling
- obtain information from clients, customers, patients, or others
- process records and maintain forms and files
- prepare reports in timely manner follow safety procedures
- recognize physical and emotional abuse
- communicate with children and adults
- apply health and sanitation standards
- provide customer service
- access social service resource providers
- apply teaching techniques
- use basic mathematics
- apply confidentiality procedures
- resolve conflicts
Source: WorkSource Oregon Employment Department iMatchSkills system, 2011
Most of the industry's workforce (90%) in Oregon is over the age of 25 and women make up just over 75 percent of the total workers. However, average monthly earnings for men in this industry are higher than women's earnings in nearly every age category. Average monthly earnings for women in 2010 ($1,947) were 75 percent of their male co-workers' wages ($2,613). The only age group of social assistance workers in which female workers earned higher average monthly earnings than males was the 22 to 24-year-olds, where the average monthly earnings of men were 96 percent of those for women.
The turnover rate for workers in this industry in 2010 was higher than many industries at 8.4 percent, most likely due to the stressful nature of the work and low wages. Only one industry, accommodation and food services, had average monthly earnings below the social assistance industry in 2010.
According to the Oregon Food Bank's annual report for the fiscal year of 2010-2011, for the first time ever, distribution of emergency food boxes in Oregon and Southwest Washington topped 1 million as long-term unemployment forced more and more people to fall into poverty and seek emergency food. The Oregon Food Bank's distribution of food to pantries in Oregon and Clark County, Washington has grown from 58 million pounds in 2007-2008 to 81 million pounds of food in the 2010-2011 program year, a 40 percent jump, serving over 260,000 people in an average month.
The growth in food distribution however, does not directly correlate to more jobs within the sector as local food banks and pantries rely heavily on volunteers to assist with getting the food out to those in need. The number of volunteer hours has increased by 36 percent, from 1.59 million hours in 2006-2007 to 2.15 million hours in 2010-2011.
According to the Oregon Employment Department's employment projections from 2010 to 2020, the social assistance industry in Oregon is projected to add about 8,000 new jobs, a growth rate of 26 percent. Until the job market strengthens and individuals can get back on their feet, needs for housing, food, energy, mental health, job search, and other assistance will likely continue. Luckily, the professionals in the social assistance industry are here to help.