Local Insights: What’s Happening in Portland’s Job Market in 2018?

Whether you live in Portland, aspire to move here, or just watch the national news once in a while, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to you: Portland has one of the hottest job markets in the United States. Call it tight, call it competitive, or call it overblown, but everything I’m seeing in Portland right now points to a market full of opportunities for both job seekers and employers. Unemployment is low, and organizations are hiring, expanding, or moving in to our community every day. Portland’s hot job market is full of opportunities, but it also has its challenges.

If you’re looking for a job in Portland right now, you need to educate yourself about trends in our city, and stay aware of the challenges our professional community faces. To help you do that, I’ve pulled together some data, a few insider anecdotes, and a bit of my own expertise as a career expert; I’ve been running a Portland-based job board for the past 16 years. Read on for insights into the modern job market in 2018.

Portland’s job market: the facts

Unemployment has been low in the Rose City for the past year or so, hovering between 3% and 4%. Portland’s current job market is the result of a few factors, but it boils down to this: our fair city is historically more affordable than its nearby regional neighbors, and that has encouraged rapid population growth over the last decade (many call Portland a “talent magnet”).  New, growing, and transplant businesses have followed over the past few years. Much of this business growth brings professional-level work with high education requirements, and high-tech and creative businesses are booming.

Founded along the banks of the Willamette River, Portland started out as a port town and many worked in shipping and manufacturing. Later, big-name global corporations set up shop in the region; Nike, Adidas, and Columbia Sportswear lead the local apparel market, while Intel leads in tech employment. Portland is also known as a highly creative city, with marketing, advertising, and design firms located all all over town.


Steady industries:

  • Manufacturing
  • Apparel
  • Tech

Growing industries:

  • Medical and Healthcare Creative
  • Construction and Architecture

Portland’s professional community has diversity and access problems

While Portland’s job market booms, our regional workforce faces several real challenges. The majority of Portlanders are politically liberal, yet the community is plagued with racism, gender inequality, and rapidly rising housing costs that threaten long-term prosperity. These challenges are real, and they are difficult to solve, but awareness is the first step to finding solutions together. So I encourage you to educate yourself and get involved with the many local organizations that are working to address these challenges.

Portland is one of the whitest cities in America, and racial diversity is lagging in our workforce. With the exception of Asian workers, non-white workers in Oregon face higher unemployment and lower wages than their white counterparts.

The gender wage gap also persists in Portland. A 2016 U.S. Census survey showed an $11,000 gap between the median annual earnings of male and female full-time workers in the Portland metro area. That’s the 16th highest wage gap of America’s 50 largest cities.

All of this may seem bleak. And it is a big challenge. But passionate people are organizing and working to help change these damaging dynamics. Learn more about racial inclusion efforts in Portland, starting with Partners in Diversity and Urban League of Portland. There are also numerous women’s professional groups in the Portland community that take on the wage gap. Start with Portland Women in Tech and a roundup of Portland women’s professional networking groups on Mac’s List.

Insider advice for Portland job seekers

There’s plenty of complexity to go around in Stumptown’s growing professional community, but there are also numerous opportunities. Keep in mind that Portland is still a small city at heart, and most industries have small, tight-knit professional communities.

Want to learn how to join these communities and get to know what it’s really like to work in Portland? Here are a few of the common anecdotes that are mostly true about working, networking, and job seeking in Portland:

It’s all about who you know.
There’s still a small town feel in our career community, and personal recommendations count in a huge way when you’re up for local jobs. So start showing up at networking events and talk to people in your industry.

Portland professionals are generous.
Most people who work in Portland say “yes” a lot. They usually agree to informational interviews, and are generally not stingy about sharing what they know about their particular industry. So, ask for help!

Candidate experience is hit or miss.
Many organizations are still stuck in the Great Recession, when they weren’t worried about finding willing and able talent so they didn’t think much about being kind to applicants. This means that some employers still ghost on applicants.

Pay can be low.
Again, some employers are still thinking in early 2000s terms when they set salaries. But as a job seeker, keep in mind that you have leverage in a hiring process. Don’t be afraid to talk to employers about their salary range, and know your market value as a professional, because you can negotiate to earn more money, especially in a tight talent market like this one.

Recruiters can help.
Overwhelmed by the job market? Keep in mind that recruiting and staffing agencies employ local job market experts, a.k.a. recruiters. These folks toe the line between employers and job seekers, and they understand the needs of both groups. Portland recruiters run the gamut, but they’re usually the best fit for executives, folks working in highly sought-after industries like creative and tech, and those who want an easier way in to big-name brands like Nike by landing a contract position. Recruiters with deep roots in the area have curated strong relationships with clients over the years, making them invaluable for introductions to positions in the ‘hidden job market’.

Learn more about Portland’s job market

There’s a lot of data out there! Here are more resources to help you understand the Portland, Oregon, and Washington job market:

Contributed by Mac Prichard, the founder and publisher of Mac’s List, where he writes regularly about job hunting, leads classes on job search skills, and hosts the “Find Your Dream Job“ podcast.


Suggested Reads

Upcoming Workshops

Get the scoop on future live job search workshops!

Exclusive Access to 2023
Job Market Trends!

You’ll also receive an email from [email protected] with a link to the report.

Exclusive Access to 2023
Job Market Trends!

You’ll also receive an email from [email protected] with a link to the report.

Thanks for your interest in our panel discussion on Paid Leave Oregon!

You’ll also receive an email from [email protected] with a link to the recording.

Let's Talk About Paid Leave Oregon (panel discussion recording)

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.