When unemployment levels go down, wages tend to go up.

So say economists and workplace observers who weighed in on this week's Oregon unemployment rate, which dipped below 4 percent for the first time ever.


That's good news for those who fill the following 27 occupations, presented here as the Portland-area's Lowest-Paying Jobs. The scale, naturally, contrasts quite a bit from a story we ran earlier in the week revealing the Portland-Hillsboro-Vancouver area's highest-paying jobs.

That is, those in the highest-paid occupation make more than 10 times as much on average as those who make the least.

The data is based on salaries collected by the region's workers, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The numbers reveal that food industry service workers hold eight of the positions on our top 27 list, with food preparation workers, who earned average salaries of $25,030, holding the highest-paid slot.

While economists say a lower unemployment rate will generally lead to higher average wages for white-collar workers, it's not clear whether that will translate into more pay for restaurant employees.

Carrie Welch, co-owner of the culinary-centric PR firm Little Green Pickle and co-founder of the popular Feast Portland gathering, said it's already difficult to find top-notch kitchen workers. Chefs tell her there's both a shortage of cooks and a shortage of prep team members.

"It's extremely hard to find people based on the talent pool for those lower-tier jobs," she said. "There aren't as much people entering the field who want to work those types of jobs, and when they get them, it's tougher to hold onto them, especially if they're good."

As for others in the back of the restaurant?

"I don’t know if it's true for jobs like dishwashers, but my general sense is that if you do find someone who's good, yes, you'll have to pay them more because the talent pool is small," Welch said.

The BLS data reveals:

  • Along with food service industry pros, food processing workers also landed on the list, one of three occupations among the 27 jobs considered within the manufacturing realm.
  • Lifeguards and ski patrol specialists are probably two of the most-glamorous positions out there. They're also along the lowest-paid workers in the region.
  • While the health care arena dominated the list of highest-paid workers, it contributed just two positions — personal care aides and home health aides — to the lowest-paid roster.

A couple of notes about the BLS data. For starters, wages for those who do not generally work year-round or full time or do not report wages as either hourly or annually aren't on the list.

That means that those filling such occupations as musicians and comedians aren't part of the BLS report.

In several instances, there was no firm data either released or available. That provision excludes actors and several theater workers from the BLS ranking.

The Portland Business Journal is a KGW News partner.