|The housing forecast for Bend is stormy OPB|
For decades, the unofficial slogan of this high desert city was "poverty with a view" of the glistening Cascades.
Like any great slogan, it stretches the truth just a tad. These days, it's more like "upper-lower class with a view" of the parkway.
Recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as reported in the daily newspaper, show the hourly wage in Bend is about 10 percent below the national average.
Actually, in most of the major fields, the Bend MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) is far lower than the national average. For lawyers, we're 24 percent down. For computer-related work, we're 19 percent lower and for engineering, we're 13 percent lower. Ironically, Bend has some of the highest-priced real estate in Oregon. Go figure.
Among the major fields, only health care is above the national average, by up to 20 percent.
These numbers point to a couple of things:
1) Health care is a way to transfer taxpayer money to private enterprise. Bend is known as a retirement mecca. Transplanted retirees brought their equity riches with them to Bend after selling their homes in high-priced neighborhoods in California and the Seattle area. These retirees could afford supplemental insurance to Medicare. They're considered golden for the medical community here.
Add in the few thousand government employees, from teachers to police officers to Forest Service workers, and the transfer of wealth from taxpayers to the health-care industry is complete. It's no wonder, then, that the medical field wages are above the national average.
2) There is no sustainable industry here with above average wages to fuel another housing boom. Bend led the nation in over-inflated housing prices during the boom and also led the nation in plummeting housing prices during the bust. Clearly, underpaid workers in the Bend area tried to live beyond their meager means. Consequently, we had record foreclosures and bankruptcies during the Great Recession. With the average price of a home rising above $300,000 again, fewer underpaid locals can afford to buy a home. (There is plenty of undeveloped land in Bend and plenty of unbuilt subdivisions, so the lack of land is no excuse for the rising prices). Plus, the days when equity-rich outsiders could snap up overpriced real estate on Bend's west side are over. That was a once-in-a-generation bubble and it has burst. The housing industry in Bend, much like other places with a false economy, is like the emperor's new clothes. It's naked, and not pretty.