Posted by: Josh Lehner | December 11, 2013

Education and Labor Force, Pt 1

In part one of a short two part series, we’ll take a brief look at educational attainment by age cohort in Oregon, and then in part two we’ll discuss labor force participation rates for younger Oregonians.

The high school graduation rate in Oregon is 68 percent while nationwide it is closer to 75 percent (states range from 62-88%). It is important for economic development that our workforce be educated, both in a formal classroom sense and in terms of the many jobs that are best learned with on the job training. A high school diploma (or equivalent, which raises the state’s educational attainment to nearly 90% high school or better) has historically been considered the basic, necessary level of education. However in recent decades it has become more and more necessary to have a bachelor’s degree (or more) to obtain one of the the high-paying jobs in the economy.

Here in Oregon, the share of adults with at least a Bachelor’s degree is slightly above the U.S. average — 29.3 percent compared with 28.6 percent. The Portland Metro has an even higher level of educational attainment, however when compared with the other largest metros in the country, it too is just above average. So we’re not running significantly ahead of national trends, but we’re still making progress and the younger generations are more highly educated than the older generations as seen below.


Couple this with the fact that we’re seeing even higher enrollment in both 2 and 4 year schools — partly due to this increasing attainment and partly due to the lousy economy making college look more attractive than a bad labor market.


The educational focus is and should be on making sure that today’s younger generations do graduate and obtain the necessary education and skills for the good, higher paying jobs of the future. It is important to point out that not all of this education and training necessarily has to be in the classroom, as discussed in our Job Polarization in Oregon report. Many of the upper middle-wage jobs (construction, installation, maintenance and repair, etc) are skilled occupations but the learning is generally done on the job and not in college and these occupations tend to pay the same as the other upper middle-wage jobs that do tend to require at least a bachelor’s degree.


Finally, beyond educating Oregonians one of the state’s historical strengths has been the ability to attract domestic migrants from across the country, and particularly from California. These migrants are also a source of rising educational attainment in the state and are a boon the local economy. While we have seen the flow of migrants decrease during and after the Great Recession, our office finds it encouraging that the same general pattern is seen, just in smaller numbers than before. However, migration is now on the upswing, even if barely. Recent research from the Wall Street Journal finds that out of the largest cities in the country, Portland attracted the 3rd most Millennial migrants in recent years and these post-recession figures are larger in number than the recessionary numbers.


  1. […] Yesterday in Part 1 we briefly examined educational attainment by age cohort in Oregon, while today in Part 2 we’ll discuss labor force participation rates a little bit. […]

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