Some Seattleites look south with envy: If only we could be Portland — weird, authentic and affordable. Turns out PDX is facing some of the same challenges as Seattle.

The 2014 American Community Survey from the Census Bureau indicates that Portland’s growth in households and jobs since the Great Recession has clustered at the high end, much like Seattle. As a result, Portland has its own affordability problem. A friend who moved there from Phoenix a couple of years ago worries about artists, other Bohemians and “young people going there to retire” will be priced out.

He’s not the only one. Officials recently listened to a presentation and panel discussion entitled, “Averting a housing crisis: Is Portland becoming the next Bay Area?”

Josh Lehner, an economist with the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, has a nuanced take on the issue on the office’s blog. A big part of the problem, as is happening nationally, is so-called job polarization. The big growth in recent years has been in high-wage jobs, which benefit a relative few. Low-wage jobs have grown, too. But jobs in the middle, where most Americans work, have been added at a much slower rate.

This hollowing out of the middle, combined with years of stagnant or even falling wages for most workers, is the key problem. “Affordability” begins with a middle class not making enough money, not getting enough good jobs.

It’s no surprise that new construction in PDX is going to meet the demand of higher-end households — that’s where the growth is.

Still, Lehner writes, “it has still been disappointing from a big picture economic perspective that building has not been more evenly distributed across the income spectrum. Even if the number of households among the lower and middle income brackets is relatively unchanged in this snapshot, it still represents the bulk of the population which has struggled with rising rents and no real income gains.”


Today’s Econ Haiku:

China dumps T-Bills

Payback time for Uncle Sam?

Less bling in Beijing


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