Youth Employment in Northwest Oregon

by Erik Knoder

November 28, 2022

The number of teenagers working in Northwest Oregon in 2022 has fallen by 35% from its peak in 1997, and it has increased by 64% from its low point in 2012. The Census Bureau estimates that there were 3,500 youth ages 14 through 18 working in Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties combined in 1997. That number dropped pretty consistently, and by 2012 during the Great Recession it had fallen to 1,400 youth. As the economy improved, youth ages 14 through 18 returned to the workforce. There was a moderate drop in 2020, probably due to pandemic restrictions. In 2021, an estimated 2,300 youth ages 14 through 18 were working in Northwest Oregon. The number of youth employed dipped slightly in 2022 to just under 2,300. This is a little surprising given the numerous employment opportunities of the tight labor market.

Graph showing youth employment in Northwest Oregon, ages 14-18

Every county in Northwest Oregon showed the pattern of falling youth employment until 2011 or 2012 and increasing youth employment until 2018 or 2019, followed by a drop in 2020. All the counties except Benton had a slight fall in youth employment in 2022. Columbia County saw the largest percentage gain (+93%) in youth employment from 2012 to 2022 followed closely by Benton County with a 91% gain. Tillamook County had the smallest gain (+36%) from its low point in 2012. Lincoln County showed more of a gain with youth employment increasing 45%. Clatsop County was in the middle with a 60% gain in employment over the 10 years. Youth employment statewide grew 92% during the same period.

Aside from the raw number of youth workers, it would be good to know the share of the youth population that works in each county. It isn’t possible to know if the youth working in a county reside within the county or in another county since commuting data are not available by age, but it is unlikely that many people ages 14 to 18 are commuting to jobs outside of their county. It is possible to compare the size of the youth workforce in a county to their total population in a county, and if there is negligible commuting then this would be close to an employment-to-population ratio. The most recent population data are for 2021. Benton and Columbia counties had the smallest working-youth-to-population ratios in 2021 at 10% and 11%, respectively. Clatsop, Tillamook, and Lincoln counties had working-youth-to-population ratios of 24%, 21%, and 21%, respectively.

Why is there such a difference between the counties? There seems to be more opportunity for youth in tourism-related businesses in the coastal counties and less competition from older college students. Leisure and hospitality as well as retail trade provided roughly 40% of all payroll jobs in Lincoln and Clatsop counties in 2020 and 28% of payroll jobs in Tillamook County.

Although all age groups were hit hard by the Great Recession, youth especially suffered. They returned to the workforce as the labor market improved, and their return seemed to be strongly influenced by having jobs available to them. The COVID-19 pandemic led to another sharp reduction in youth employment, but there is evidence that the trend of increasing youth employment will continue.

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