2010s Were a “Disappointment” for Oregon Economically

On the very last day of 2019, the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis released a report identifying the economic trends of the past decade. According to economist Josh Lehner, “when taken as a whole, the 2010s were an economic disappointment.”  

“We spent much of the past 10 years simply digging our way out of the Great Recession,” he writes, “which means we underperformed overall.”  

Lehner identifies three key trends in the report: rising household incomes, a growing rural-urban divide, and unaffordable housing.   

Since 1969, the median household income in Oregon has been below national levels, often by a significant margin. Only in the past three years has the state managed to catch up, finally rising above national levels by 2.4 percent in 2018.   

“…assuming another solid year of income gains in 2019,” Lehner writes, “Oregon will end the decade with inflation-adjusted household incomes somewhere around 13% higher than they ever have been before.” Lehner reckons that boost should be enough to overcome the slump of the previous decade and weather a future recession.  

As for the second trend, while the recession was “an equal opportunity disaster,” Oregon’s metropolitan areas were quicker to bounce back than rural Oregon. Employment in Portland alone went up by 15.5 percent, and Albany, Bend, Corvallis, Eugene, Grant’s Pass, Medford and Salem saw a 10.1 percent rise. In contrast, employment in the rest of the state only grew by 0.7 percent.  

“Rural Oregon overall basically spent half the decade seeing no gains but has seen solid growth the past handful of years,” Lehner writes. “That said, just 9 of Oregon’s 23 rural counties have more jobs today than they did last decade.”  

The third trend, housing, is perhaps the most distressing. While Lehner does mention rising costs, he states that these are “the symptom and not the cause of the disease.” Rather, he attributes the housing crisis to record low levels of construction. “On a population growth-adjusted basis,” he writes, “Oregon built fewer new housing units this decade than we have since at least World War II.”   

Nevertheless, Lehner reports that “we are ending the decade in great shape and with an economy that has rarely been better,” and that “taken as a whole, the 2020s should be better.”  

By Brandon Urey