Although the economy in the greater Portland region is doing well, East Multnomah County has special problems that need to be addressed to ensure that its residents prosper equally, according to a new report.
Problems include wage inequity, cost-burdened households, and a live-work imbalance that impacts the work force and contributes to the strained transportation network in the region.
East Multnomah County is a special focus of this year's annual regional Economic Check-Up conducted by the Value of Jobs Coalition and released by the Portland Business Alliance on Wednesday, Feb. 13.
The report defined East Multnomah County as everything in the county east of Interstate-205, which includes the cities of Gresham, Fairview, Troutdale, Wood Village and a large portion of Portland. It found a number of positive economic indicators there, including the fact there were 99,216 total jobs last year, closely matching the 102,361 in Portland's Central City.
But the report also identified the following problems:
• Live-work imbalance. The majority of residents in East Multnomah County don't work there, while the majority who work there don't live there. There is a higher share of workers commuting in and out of the area than in the rest of the county, or either Washington and Clackamas counties.
This has adverse environmental impacts and strains an infrastructure system that is long overdue for significant investment.
• Cost-burdened renters. Although homeowners in East Multnomah County are more likely to have housing that is affordable based on their income than homeowners across the region, almost 60 percent of renters are cost burdened — meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing.
• Wage disparities. Economic disparities exist at income levels across all industries in East Multnomah County. Virtually all industry sectors have lower average wages than the rest of the region. The few industries with higher wages only employ a small number of workers.
In the health care and manufacturing industries, average wages are lower by roughly $10,000 and $24,000, respectively. The exception is retail where the roughly 13,500 employees earn, on average, $1,500 more per year.
"Long overdue for meaningful public and private collaboration, we must look at East Multnomah County's needs, and where there is opportunity for policies to retain and attract jobs for residents," said the report, which noted that the population east of I-205 also has become more diverse in the past five years. "People of color living east of I-205 increased by 15 percent, compared to the rest of Multnomah County, which saw a 13 percent increase."
Despite the changes in East Multnomah County, the overall check-up report found the region's economy has grown in recent years, creating greater equality, although growth started to slow down in 2018.
"The Portland region's annual employment growth has exceeded the national average every year since 2011. Our region hit peak employment growth in 2015 at 3.34 percent, and since then, the rate of growth has slowed to 2.3 percent in 2018," the report said.
The report found the greatest regionwide problem is the lack of housing. Home building almost completely stopped during the Great Recession and has never recovered.
"Where our region falls short is its housing supply. The gap between the employment and population growth in the region, and the change in supply of housing units continues to be a challenge. Producing fewer units of housing than the region's population growth has put pressure on prices and prolonged the housing affordability crisis," the report said.
The report was prepared by the Portland-based EcoNorthwest economic consulting firm. The Value of Jobs Coalition is led by the Portland Business Alliance and includes the Oregon Business Council, Oregon Business & Industry, the Port of Portland and Greater Portland Inc.
You can read a summary of the report here.
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