Median household income still low, but manufacturing is up

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Experts say local products shipped through the Port of Portland bring outside money into the regional economy.The Portland region has recovered nearly all of the jobs lost during the Great Recession, but still lags behind many comparable metropolitan areas when it comes to median household incomes.

The good new, bad news findings were part of the most recent annual checkup on the Portland Region’s Economic Health commissioned by the Value of Jobs Coalition, an alliance of regional businesses and business advocacy organizations. It was released at the Portland Business Alliance’s monthly breakfast forum on Nov. 20.

“We had hints of good news in last year’s report, but there’s some very positive news this year. We’re still not completely where we want to be, however,” said Sandra McDonough, PBA president and chief executive officer. The report found that the region lost 72,400 jobs between August 2008 and August 2009, when the economy bottomed out. But the region has since added back 65,900 jobs for a current net loss of just 6,500 jobs.

As a result, regional employment is now just 0.5 percent below its 2007 peak, the report said. That’s slightly better than the U.S. metropolitan average, which is still 1 percent below the 2007 level.

The report also found that the region’s Gross Metropolitan Product is increasing faster than most other metropolitan areas. The GMP is the market value of all the goods and services produced in a Metropolitan Statistics Area, which is how the federal government defines urban areas across the country. Only Austin, Texas, has a faster-growing GMP than Portland, where it has increased 60 percent since 2004.

But the median household income in the Portland metropolitan region has remained relatively low during the recovery. Although it increased $995 between 2011 and 2012, it still trails that in Denver by $4,475, Seattle by $9,000 and Minneapolis by $9,304.

According to the report, much of the regional recovery can be credited to the manufacturing sector of the economy, which did not fall as far as the national metro average and has rebounded at a faster pace. Manufacturing jobs also pay significantly more than other jobs on average, the report said.

“A lot of our GMP gains are coming from the high-tech manufacturing companies in Washington County, like Intel, which are very efficient and have high production values,” McDonough said.

Another important factor is the increase in jobs in the traded section, which sells goods and services outside the local economy, bringing new money into the region. Traded-sector employment fell more than local employment during the recession and has yet to fully recover, the report says.

“Focusing in the traded sector is important because it helps the local sector,” McDonough said.

The report recommends several steps to increase the pace of the regional recovery. They include strategies that repeatedly have been endorsed by business leaders, including improving the educational attainment of Portland area and Oregon students; increasing the availability of industrial land to add more manufacturing jobs; investing in transportation infrastructure to improve productivity; focusing economic development efforts on supporting traded-sector industries; and reforming state and local tax systems to encourage private investment and stabilize public services.

“Our economic strategies are right, and we need to continue focusing on them,” McDonough said.

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