Quarter-million Oregonians in Working Families Come up Short
A new national study shows that 36 percent of working families in Oregon with one to three children under age twelve, 251,000 Oregonians, do not earn enough income to afford basic necessities like food, housing, health care, and child care, even during a period of national prosperity.
Hardships in America: The Real Story of Working Families, released today by the Economic Policy Institute and the Oregon Center for Public Policy, examines the cost of living in every community nationwide and determines separate “basic family budgets” for each community. The budget includes the amount a family would need to earn to afford food, housing, child care, health insurance, transportation, and utilities. It does not include the cost of restaurant meals, vacations, movies, or savings for education or retirement.
While there have been a number of “living wage” studies across the country, this is the first comprehensive nationwide study using a consistent methodology for all of the nation’s cities (metropolitan statistical areas) and rural areas. The report calculates the “family budget” for five geographical areas in Oregon: the Eugene-Springfield, Medford-Ashland, Portland-Vancouver (Oregon portion), and Salem Metropolitan Statistical Areas, and one combined rural area.
Basic family budgets for a two-parent, two-child family range from $34,862 in rural Oregon to $37,306 a year in the Portland metropolitan area. The overall range was $25,207 for a single-parent household with one child in rural Oregon to $47,151 for a two-parent household with three children in the Portland metropolitan area. In relation to poverty, basic living budgets ranged from 205 percent to 249 percent of poverty, depending on family size and location.
“This study shows that work alone doesn’t ensure a decent standard of living,” said Charles Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. “This report provides strong evidence of the need for policies that strengthen our social safety net and boost wages.”
The report also calculated the hardships families face nationwide if the family income is below a basic family budget. The report found that a leading indicator of hardships is not whether a parent works, but whether the family has health insurance. Food insufficiency was the most common hardship, with significant percentages of families nationwide missing meals involuntarily and worried about having enough food to keep from going hungry.
The report’s authors offer policy proposals for raising the earnings of low-income and poor families, including a minimum wage hike, an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, more comprehensive job training programs, and stronger pay equity policies that help to ensure that women are paid as much as men.
“The report makes clear that policies to boost income, however, are only part of a plan to ensure that all families can afford a safe and decent standard of living,” said Sheketoff. “A strong safety net is also critical.”
The report also recommends a variety of safety net expansions to address the problem, including expanding health care insurance and access, increased public funding for child care for children of all ages, paid family leave, and increased investment in affordable housing.
The Economic Policy Institute is a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit, non-partisan economic think tank founded in 1986. The Oregon Center for Public Policy is a Silverton-based public policy research institute that addresses tax, budget, economic, and policy policies important to low and moderate income Oregonians, the majority of Oregonians.