Today Children First for Oregon released The Status of Oregon’s Children and Families: 2016 County Data Book, which finds that many Oregon families are struggling financially as common expenses outpace Oregon’s median family income.
The report shows that even after receiving a boost in 2015, Oregon’s median family income remained 1.6 percent below where it was in 2008, after adjusting for inflation. At the same time, typical family expenses such as rent, child care and public university tuition have continued to rise. Over the same time period, the median rent in Oregon increased nearly 10 percent, the cost of child care jumped over 17 percent and the average cost of in-state tuition at Oregon’s public universities increased 31 percent.
The impact is felt strongly in Oregon’s more rural counties. While the counties with the highest median family incomes are located near Portland, some of the highest child poverty rates are found in counties east of the Cascades. For example, about 39 percent of children in Malheur County, almost 2 in 5, lived in poverty in 2010-14 while about 12 percent of children in Clackamas County and about 16 percent of children in Washington County were poor.
Racial disparities in family incomes and poverty rates persist. In 2010-14, the typical Non-Hispanic White family had about $23,000 more in annual income to cover common expenses than the typical Black, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, or Native American family. And while about 17 percent of Non-Hispanic White children were poor, about a third of all Latino children and Native American children were poor. Nearly half of all Black children and Pacific Islander children were poor.
Many communities of color face systemic barriers that leave the playing field uneven. The legacy of explicitly racist housing policies, implicit biases in hiring practices and in the workplace, and barriers in education persist in lower rates of homeownership, higher rates of unemployment, lower incomes and lower levels of educational attainment in many of Oregon’s communities of color.
For Non-Hispanic White children, a stark divide is evident between rural and urban counties. Those outside of the Portland Metro Area were almost twice as likely to live in poverty as those living near Portland.
In 2015, overall child poverty rates in Oregon remained above their 2008 levels. Poverty, particularly during early childhood, can have a lasting impact on child well-being. Research has shown that growing up in poverty is associated with lower long-term academic achievement as well as employment and earning power in adulthood. Experiencing poverty as a child, especially prolonged poverty, has been shown to hinder a child’s cognitive development. And since a child’s development in the first few years of life lays the groundwork for future health and development, child poverty can have a negative impact well into adulthood.
It is imperative that we prioritize policies and programs that help provide much needed security and stability for families who are struggling. Many families depend on access to programs that make housing, child care and education, more affordable.
United for Kids is Children First for Oregon’s initiative to make these changes at the state legislative level. People who want to see real change happen for Oregon’s families and children can sign up to join United for Kids.