You likely have seen the help wanted signs popping up at various businesses in St. Helens and across Columbia County.
Local employers are looking for summer workers.
In 2019, before the pandemic recession, Oregon added about 21,000 farm jobs and 27,000 nonfarm jobs from winter to summer, which made it fairly easy for teens and others to pick up a summer job. The situation for the summer of 2021 will likely be different in some ways as Oregon begins to reopen its economy after taking measures to reduce the impact of COVID-19.
Industries traditionally adding many summer jobs in Oregon include agriculture, leisure and hospitality, construction, retail trade, and temporary help services. Popular occupations added in the summer include farmworkers, waiters and waitresses, construction laborers, cashiers, and groundskeepers.
However, some of these are the industries and occupations that were curtailed the most by COVID-19 measures, and many are still strongly affected. Oregon’s nonfarm employment dropped by an astounding 258,100 jobs in April 2020, a loss of 13.3% of all nonfarm jobs. The unemployment rate rose to a historic high of 13.2%. Many jobs were added back during the summer of 2020. The summer of 2021 should see continued improvement in the labor market, but employment probably won’t completely return to the level of pre-recession years.
Despite agriculture generating a far smaller share of jobs than it did historically, it is still the number one industry for creating summer jobs in Oregon. Agriculture added an estimated 21,177 jobs from winter to summer (January-March versus July-September) in 2019. This seasonal growth fell to 17,233 jobs during the pandemic of 2020. Agriculture provided about 57,200 jobs in the winter and 74,400 in summer 2020; this was an employment increase of nearly one-third from winter to summer.
Farmworkers and laborers for crops, nurseries, and greenhouses is by far the most-common occupation in agriculture. Oregon generates an estimated 4,200 total openings each year for new farmworkers. The number of total openings in a year includes those due to occupational turnover and replacement (retirement) as well as growth of the industry. Being a farmworker requires physical strength and mobility but doesn’t require extensive education or training. Accordingly, the occupation has few barriers to entry and usually pays a fairly low wage of about $13.25 per hour on average.
Almost all industries in Oregon added jobs over the past few summers before the pandemic recession. But Oregon’s economy overall was growing from 2011 until March 2020, which makes it harder to distinguish temporary jobs that last for just the summer from the growth in permanent jobs which can also occur during the summer. Fortunately, the Oregon Employment Department and the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics calculate factors to measure how much employment usually varies from month to month in many nonfarm industries based on several years of data. These seasonal factors tell us how much we