The news about jobs and income in Central Oregon shows more jobs but lower income. The news about the expansion of higher education in Central Oregon could be the antidote to that wage trend.
As reporter Mac McLean wrote in Monday’s Bulletin, the U.S. Census Bureau says median household income in Crook and Deschutes counties fell by about $5,000 from 2009 to 2012. That included a drop of $200 from 2011 to 2012. During that same period, the percentage of workers earning more than $100,000 per year stayed about the same, while the percentage earning less than $25,000 climbed 33 percent.
Those numbers likely reflect the shift in the type of jobs available, as detailed Sept. 15 by Bulletin reporter Elon Glucklich. Employment in health care, food service and lodging has climbed, while manufacturing, construction and the financial sector have declined.
No doubt the continuing slow economic recovery — and a recent surge in home construction — will improve this trend. But the planned expansion of Oregon State University-Cascades Campus offers the best big hope for needed diversification in the region’s employment opportunities.
Last week the Oregon State Board of Higher Education approved the campus’ plan to purchase two adjacent properties in west Bend for the construction of a four-year college. Graduate programs are slated to increase as well.
The expansion will satisfy a critical requirement for the development of the region’s technology industry. Companies considering relocating or expanding here want good public schools (check), low crime rates (check) and the ability for staff to advance through continuing education. More learning opportunities, particularly in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math), are critical.
Central Oregon needs jobs, but it needs more of them to be high-end. OSU-Cascades’ expansion will involve some complications and inconveniences, such as more traffic and crowded restaurants. But it is our best shot at reversing that troublesome wage trend at the same time that we enhance our culture and expand our horizon.