Oregon’s high minimum wage and lack of a big-bonus-paying financial sector likely contributes to Portland’s relatively small income gap.
A study this week by G. Scott Thomas of BizJournals On Numbers concluded Portland ranks among metro areas with the smallest gap between earners at the top and bottom of the spectrum.
Economists cautioned against reading too much into a single statistical analysis, but said high minimum wages in Oregon likely contributed to Portland having a relatively small income gap.
Oregon ranks No. 2 nationally with a $9.10 minimum wage. Only Washington, with a $9.32 minimum wage, is higher, according to the U.S. Department of Labor website.
The other big factor? Some metro areas have industries that pay exhorbitant salaries, such as Wall Street in New York City and Silicon Valley in the Bay Area. There’s no such industry in Portland.
“There aren’t a lot of high-paying financial type jobs compared with what you’d see in New York,” said Nick Beleiciks, a state employment economist.
Portland’s industry mix also includes thousands of family wage-paying manufacturing and technology jobs, two industries that keep average wages up and minimize the gap between earners.
While the Business First survey concluded the income gap in Portland is relatively small, some economists said income inequality is a growing problem.
“Inequality might be growing less rapidly here in Oregon, but it’s still a growing problem and it’s a growing problem all across the country and Oregon is no exception,” said Jason Gettel, policy analyst for the Oregon Center for Public Policy.
CEOs at Oregon public companies earned median pay of $1.5 million in 2012, according to a 2013 story in the Business Journal. Twelve earned more than $3 million.
Median wages statewide barely cross $34,000 annually, 44 times less than what CEOs banked. The average worker got a salary bump of less than 1 percent in 2012.
Economists also cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from a single study.
“The important thing to me is what is happening over time,” said economist John Mitchell.