Today, the U.S. Census Bureau released new data on the extent of poverty and the change in household median income in Oregon. According to an analysis by the Oregon Center for Public Policy, a non-profit research institute in Silverton, the new numbers “are a reflection of the widening economic gulf that separates urban and rural Oregon” and send “a troubling message that many Oregonians are not sharing in Oregon’s economic prosperity and raises serious questions about the success of Oregon’s welfare reform.”
The Census figures show that the median household income and the poverty rate in Oregon both increased slightly between 1996-97 and 1997-98, although neither change was statistically significant. The 1997-98 poverty rate was higher than the rate in 1988-89, the two year period before Oregon’s most recent recession, although the change was not statistically significant.
Oregon’s poverty rate rose slightly between 1996-97 and 1997-98, from 11.7 percent to 13.3 percent; however, the change was not statistically significant. The poverty rate in 1997-98 was also higher than the pre-recession levels of 1988-89, although this change was also not statistically significant. Before the onset of the recession in the early 1990s, Oregon’s poverty was 10.8 percent (1988-89). Poverty rates in the 1990s remained relatively constant, with slight but insignificant fluctuations across two-year averages. Nevertheless, the 1997-98 rate remains relatively unchanged from pre-recession levels.
The Census figures also show that median household income in Oregon was $38,447 in 1997-98. Household income was slightly higher than the previous two-year average, but the difference was not significant. Median household income in 1997-98 was also insignificantly higher than pre-recession level from 1988-89.
“The slight, although insignificant, increase in poverty raises serious questions about Oregon’s welfare reform strategy,” said Charles Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. “The anti-poverty welfare program has boasted about its plummeting caseload, yet the poverty rate has not dropped since the late 1980s. The poverty rate’s recent slight increase in the face of recent declining welfare caseloads should send a wake-up call to the Governor and welfare officials,” he added.
The disappointing numbers for Oregon as a whole are in marked contrast with recent data from Oregon’s most urban county, Multnomah County. Data released earlier this year by the Census Bureau shows that the county’s economic performance in recent years has been impressive, with poverty rates declining and median incomes rising. Data from the Census American Community Survey (ACS) show that median household income in Multnomah County was $36,231 in 1998, significantly higher than 1996. The 1998 estimate is higher than 1997, although the difference is not statistically significant.
Poverty is also down significantly in Multnomah County. According to data from the American Community Survey analyzed by the Silverton research institute, 12.7 percent of people in Multnomah County were poor in 1998, significantly fewer than 1996 and 1997. Youth poverty also declined significantly for children in families, falling from 17.3 percent in 1996 to 14.3 percent in 1998.
“Two years running, the strong economy in Multnomah County has helped children,” said Thompson. Poverty among families — households with married couples and households with related children — declined slightly in 1998, from 10.4 percent to 9.4 percent. This change was not significant, however.
“Data from Multnomah County shows that the strong economy spurred by the minimum wage increase and low unemployment has helped reduce poverty in Multnomah County,” said Jeff Thompson, an economist and policy analyst with the Oregon Center for Public Policy.
“The contrast between Multnomah County’s success in reducing poverty and the statewide data is a strong reminder that labor market conditions affect poverty and people’s economic well-being, ” said Thompson. “It is not just about people’s bootstraps.”
The ACS is a pilot project that was performed by the Census in 1996, 1997, and 1998 and represents a large sample size, approximately 6,000 households or three percent of the county’s households. By comparison, the annual survey used by the Census to estimate the poverty rate and median income for Oregon as a whole is based on fewer than 1,000 households statewide. Census uses two-year averages for statewide data because the sample sizes for most states used in the annual survey are small; two-year averages provide reliable figures.