Following the collapse of the Northwest timber industry in the 1990s, thousands of workers lost their jobs. The conventional wisdom has been that these workers were absorbed by a boom in the region’s high-tech industry — but a new study of a decade’s worth of employment records questions that conclusion. True, the region’s economy as a whole grew during the ’90s, but former timber industry workers didn’t benefit. More than half of the 60,000 people in Oregon working in the industry at the beginning of the 1990s left their jobs by 1998. Of those, only 18,000 found other jobs in Oregon — and half of the jobs they found paid lower wages than their previous positions. The environmental movement wasn’t solely responsible for the shift; the increasing automation of sawmills and the depressed timber market contributed to the loss of jobs. Still, the study, coauthored by the economic consulting firm ECONorthwest and economists at Oregon State University and the Oregon Employment Department, may be the first significant attempt to understand how environmentally motivated economic changes affect workers.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.