Oregon's Economy: Overview
Employment Department, Workforce & Economic Research Division
Oregon’s economy is robust entering the 2016–2017 biennium following three years of rapid job growth that helped bring the state’s unemployment rate to its lowest point in decades. Oregon ranked near the top of all states in terms of improved job growth and decreased unemployment. In early 2016, Oregon’s unemployment rate was down to 4.5 percent, close to the U.S. unemployment rate of 4.7 percent.
During the past three decades, Oregon made the transition from a resource-based economy to a more mixed manufacturing and marketing economy, with an emphasis on high technology. Oregon’s hard times of the early 1980s signaled basic changes had occurred in traditional resource sectors — timber, fishing and agriculture — and the state worked to develop new economic sectors to replace older ones. Most important, perhaps, was the state’s growing high-tech sector, centered in the three counties around Portland. However, rural Oregon counties were generally left out of the shift to a new economy.
As with the nation, Oregon’s expansion from 2004 through 2007 was fueled by growth in construction and services. The recession erased construction’s job gains and devastated the economy to the extent that employment in 2010 was at about the same level as in 2000. Job growth was slow during the first three years of recovery, but picked up speed in 2013 as all the major sectors began adding jobs.
Oregon is one of the most trade dependent states in the nation and, to some extent, economic activity in other countries helps drive the state’s economy. The value of exports from Oregon to foreign countries was $20.1 billion in 2015. The state’s largest trading partners are China, Canada, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea. Of course, Oregon’s trade with other U.S. states far exceeds its trade with foreign nations.
The aging population will factor into the future of Oregon’s economy. The eldest members of the “Baby Boom” generation, those born between 1946 and 1964, are becoming eligible for Social Security benefits, and many are considering retirement. Nearly one out of four workers in Oregon is already 55 years or older. As the generation ages, employers will need to find new workers with the skills to replace their retiring workforce. At the same time, the growing number of retirees will demand more leisure and health care services.
Oregon's top ten commodities in 2015