Oregon's Poverty Rate Stubbornly High, But Help is Available
PORTLAND, Ore. — In Oregon, the number of people living in poverty in 2015 exceeded the total population of the 17 counties east of the Cascades, according to analysis from the Oregon Center for Public Policy.
Despite nationwide improvements in the economy, 15.4 percent of Oregonians lived below the poverty line last year. The state's economic growth since the Great Recession has been stubborn: before the economic downturn in 2007, about 13 percent lived in poverty.
Tyler Mac Innis, policy analyst with the Oregon Center for Public Policy, said low income households have some tools at their disposal to help lift them out of poverty, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit.
"It's a proven tool to boost the after-tax earnings of low-income working families, it's a program that's achieved bipartisan support and it's largely seen as a really effective anti-poverty tool,” Mac Innis said. "The problem in Oregon is that a good chunk of people who are eligible for the credit don't claim it."
Oregon has one of the worst participation rates in the country for the tax credit. Mac Innis said the state should do more outreach to educate Oregonians about the Earned Income credit, and that the Department of Revenue needs to be more customer-friendly to encourage families to participate.
The data also showed that people of color, with the exception of Asian Americans, were more than twice as likely to live in poverty. Equally troubling, one in five children live in poverty - a rate that did not improve between 2014 and 2015.
According to Chid Care Aware of America, Oregon has the second-highest price tag for infant care in the country. Mac Innis said the state provides subsidized child care for working parents, but the program is underutilized.
"The problem is that there just isn't enough funding for the program and so there's a limited number of slots,” he said. “And often there's a reservation list where folks essentially have to wait in line to even get into the door."
Still, Mac Innis said the state has made some progress by raising the minimum wage and requiring employers to give their employees paid sick leave.