2016 County Data Book: Oregon Families Struggling Financially

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.

New report shows Oregon falling behind in child well-being

Data released today in the 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book® from the Annie E. Casey Foundation show that Oregon’s rate of child well-being fell to 32nd in the nation. Our state’s economic, health, and community rankings have all declined.

These data prove the urgency of the situation: 22% – over 1 in 5 Oregon children – lives in poverty. That’s 5 kids in every 25-child classroom in each classroom in the state. To put it another way, it’s nearly enough children in poverty to fill Reser and Autzen stadiums twice over. Kids are living in insecure housing, a result of some of the highest housing costs in the country. In fact, Oregon’s children are poorer, more of them live in high-poverty areas, more of their parents lack secure employment, and there are more low-birthweight babies than in 2008, at the height of the recession.

Additional information is available here. The site contains the most recent national, state and local data on hundreds of indicators of child well-being. The Data Center allows users to create rankings, maps and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and to view real-time information on mobile devices.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org. KIDS COUNT® is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Child Poverty in Oregon

By any measure, too many of Oregon’s kids are living in poverty.

The official definition of poverty is in the U.S. is outdated and inadequate. The U.S. Census Bureau developed the the official U.S. definition of poverty in the 1960s using the cost of food and the proportion of income typically spent on food. While it has been adjusted for inflation annually, the measure has failed to keep up with the pressures families face.

For example, a single parent raising two kids on $370 per week (about $1,600 a month or $19,240 per year) would not be considered “in poverty” according to the the official definition. In order to meet that threshold, a family of three would have to have earned less than $19,073 in 2014 to be considered living in poverty.

Not only is this bar low, it does not take into account variations in cost based on geography. That means that the official definition of poverty is the same whether you live in Portland, Oregon, where rent continues to skyrocket, or Fort Wayne, Indiana, where rent is 28 percent below the national average.

Some communities in Oregon face extremely high rates of poverty among children. For example, while about 17 percent of non-Hispanic white children were in poverty in 2014, the child poverty rate was about 33 percent for Hispanic children, about 44 percent for American Indian/Alaskan Native children, 46 percent for black children and 54 percent for Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander children.


In total, 21.6 percent of children in Oregon were below the poverty line in 2014. That is more than one out of every five kids in our state.

There were about 860,000 kids living in Oregon in 2014. One out of five means that about 182,000 of them were living in poverty. That is enough to fill seven of our state’s most popular stadiums.


Since we know the official definition of poverty doesn’t correlate to what it takes to actually get by, it can be more helpful to measure how many families are living in or near poverty. Raising the threshold to a more meaningful level, 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold (or $37,700 for a family of three) more than doubles the number of Oregon’s children in families are struggling.

In total, there were about 390,000 kids in Oregon living in or near poverty in 2014 – enough to fill those same 7 stadiums and arenas in Oregon, plus the two largest stadiums on the west coast, and still have about 30,000 kids standing outside.


However, progress is being made.

First, in terms of measurement, the Census Bureau is developing a Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) that will better examine both the income and expense sides of a family’s circumstances.

Second, the SPM allows us to see the important progress being made in fighting poverty. The safety net is working. And working better in Oregon than many other places.

Using the SPM, and adjusting for the respondents’ tendency to under report income, researchers at the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have shown that the safety net cuts the child poverty rate roughly in half nationally. In Oregon, safety net programs reduce the rate of child poverty by nearly two-thirds.

2015 County Data Book shows stark divide in economic opportunity

The 2015 County Data Book is out today — and the news isn’t good. Although a recovering economy has started to lead to lower rates of child poverty and higher levels of income for families overall, we’re still a long way away from where we were before the Great Recession. Even worse, the Data Book shows a stark divide in levels of economic opportunity based on skin color and place of birth.

For white kids in the Portland Metro Area, things are starting to look better. But for everyone else, and in particular for children of color, barriers to opportunity are high. White children outside the metro area and children of color live in families with much higher rates of poverty and much lower incomes. This is especially problematic given that half a person’s earnings can be predicted by how much his or her parents made.

Source: CFFO analysis of American Community Survey Microdata, 2009-2013

Source: CFFO analysis of American Community Survey Microdata, 2009-2013

Source: CFFO analysis of American Community Survey Microdata, 2009-2013

Source: CFFO analysis of American Community Survey Microdata, 2009-2013

In many ways, what we’re seeing today is a result of the long-term trend of job polarization, in which middle wage jobs are harder to come by while low and high wage jobs grow at higher rates. This polarization hollows out the middle of the income distribution and increases the gap between the high and low economic rungs. Although this polarization has been decades in the making, the Great Recession exacerbated it — in fact, 8 out of 10 jobs lost during the recession were middle wage jobs. This chart from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis illustrates the problem well: although middle wage jobs are more available than they were in the depths of the recession, the growth rate is much smaller than that for low and high wage jobs.

Source: Oregon Office of Economic Analysis

Source: Oregon Office of Economic Analysis

For workers lucky enough to be in high wage jobs, this is all well and good. But for workers stuck in the low end of the wage distribution, this job polarization makes it even harder to stay afloat. Moreover, it negatively affects the levels of economic opportunity for their kids in the future. Paired with high housing and child care costs throughout Oregon, lower incomes mean that parents are more likely to have to live in areas with concentrated poverty, near schools with lower levels of funding, and are less likely to be able to invest in high quality early learning opportunities for their kids. All of these factors place kids at a significant disadvantage in terms of later economic success.

Most importantly, this job polarization is not random. Those most likely to move from middle to low wage jobs are workers of color — and those most likely to have access to high wage jobs are White, metro-area workers. Today, nearly half of low wage jobs are held by workers of color, compared to only 25% of high wage jobs. For White, metro-area workers the statistics are almost the mirror image.

Source: CFFO analysis of American Community Survey Microdata,

Source: CFFO analysis of American Community Survey Microdata,

The aggregate economic statistics are saying that we’re in a recovery — a good but not great one. But looking below the surface, it quickly becomes clear that the bulk of our kids and families aren’t reaping any of the benefits. And without immediate action to narrow the gulf of opportunity between White, Portland-area children and everyone else, we risk setting an entire generation behind.

The media and voters are paying attention to housing affordability — but are Oregon legislators?

Sparked by a much-mocked video that went viral, attention in the last few months has been focused on the Portland-area’s skyrocketing rents. As Portland’s population has boomed over the past several years the supply of housing has been slow to respond, resulting in increasing rents and sometimes pushing residents out of their homes and into less expensive areas of the city.

Although Portland, as the state’s largest urban area, gets much of the attention when it comes to the media coverage of increasing rents, the problem of housing affordability is not isolated to one area of the state. In fact, more than half of Oregon’s renters are “rent burdened” and spend 30% or more of their incomes on housing, putting Oregon in the bottom third of states nationally.
Rent-Burdened Households

Moreover, despite the disproportionate amount of attention paid to Portland’s housing problem, the problem is widespread — more than half of renting households in every area of the state were rent burdened between 2009 and 2013.

Source: CFFO Analysis of American Community Survey 2013 5-Year Public Use Microdata

Source: CFFO Analysis of American Community Survey 2013 5-Year Public Use Microdata

In many ways, this data actually understates the magnitude of the problem. The amount of rent a family pays factors in that families shop for housing they can afford — even if it means moving to areas with limited opportunities for economic advancement. At the same time that rents have increased and put pressure on families’ budgets, more and more children are growing up in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty. In Oregon, the number of children living in these neighborhoods more than tripled between 2000 and 2013, severely limiting the opportunities for economic success they’ll have later in life.

No family should be forced to settle for housing that they can afford at the expense of their child’s opportunities for future economic success. During the previous legislative session the Oregon legislature gave authority to issue bonds totaling $60 million during the upcoming biennium to construct new affordable homes for Oregon families. Although this legislation was a significant step in the right direction, its scope falls far short of what is needed to guarantee quality, affordable housing for all Oregon families. First, the legislature approved only a portion of the $100 million that was originally requested by Governor Kate Brown. Moreover, even that original request would have only benefitted a maximum of 4,000 families, which represents fewer than 3% of Oregon households that are rent burdened throughout the state.

If Oregon intends to take the issue of housing affordability seriously, legislators need to put forth a much more concerted effort. Although this year’s legislative session has concluded, next February there is another opportunity for legislators to give more Oregon families greater access to quality and affordable housing — but only if legislators give the issue as much attention as voters and the media have been.