Oregon's urban-rural wage gap widens

BAKER CITY — The wage gap between northeastern Oregon and the state's I-5 corridor has widened since the 1970s.

In Baker County, for example, the average wage increased from $11,874 in 1980 to $28,043 in 2007. That compares to the statewide average wage increase from $14,301 in 1980 to $39,566 in 2007, according to information provided by the state. In other words, county wages were 83 percent of the state average in 1980 and 71 percent of the average last year.

A chart compiled by Art Ayre, an economist with the Oregon Department of Employment, shows average wages paid overall in Baker County matched up fairly well with statewide averages up through the 1970s, when timber, wood products manufacturing and agriculture were Oregon's leading industries.

"The strength of wood products spilled over to other occupations," Ayre told the Baker City Herald, noting that higher wages paid to timber industry workers forced employers in northeast Oregon to pay more to attract and retain workers in other types of manufacturing, retail trade and professional service sectors.

Agriculture is now the only employment sector where the average pay in northeastern Oregon consistently exceeds statewide averages, Ayre said.

State statistics show wages paid to agricultural workers in Baker County topped statewide averages by wide margins from the 1970s through 1993, before dropping in the latter half of the 1990s.

But the county's average agricultural wage bounced back, paying between 96 percent and 115 percent of statewide averages during the first seven years of this century.

In most categories, however, the rural-urban wage gap has widened since 1980. Some of it is due to declines in the timber industry, but the story also includes the growth of high-tech along the I-5 corridor from Portland to Eugene. The average wage per job in the Portland-area counties of Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington exceeded $40,000 last year.

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