A Long-term View of the State of Working Oregon
Oregon’s current economic downturn is generating a lot of discussion. Layoffs and rising unemployment are frequent headlines and there is constant speculation as to when the current slowdown will dip into recession. Much of the commentary, however, ignores important long-term changes in conditions for working Oregonians. Recession is cause for concern: short-term job losses and layoffs have significant costs for families and communities. Far more damaging, though, are the long-term consequences that working people face. Over the long-term, workers in Oregon are falling behind and are less protected when recession hits. The cyclical upturns that our economy produces have not been enough to bring economic prosperity and stability to working people.
Dowload a copy of the full report: What’s so Scary about a Recession? A Long-term View of the State of Working Oregon
The report shows:
- After climbing steadily in the late 1990s, Oregon’s inflation-adjusted median hourly wage peaked in 1999 at $12.38 and then fell back to $12.21 in 2000. The 1999 high-point remained below levels reached in the economic expansions of the late 1970s and 1980s.
- After growing rapidly across the 1960s and 1970s, median incomes in Oregon stagnated in the 1980s and 1990s. Median family income was $45,506 in 1999, only slightly higher than in 1989 and no different from 1979. The 1998-99 median household income grew in the late 1990s, but remained below the previous peak in 1988-89.
- Oregon workers maintained their incomes despite declining wages by working more hours. Working age married couple families boosted their annual work effort by 449 hours over the last twenty years, the equivalent of 11 additional weeks of work. Middle-income married couple families boosted their work effort most, putting in 810 additional work hours since the late 1970s.
- Oregon’s economy has grown considerably over the last twenty years, but the rewards have not been shared equally. The highest-income twenty percent of families increased their average annual incomes by $39,000 between the late 1970s and the late 1990s, while middle and low-income families saw no gains.
The safety net that protects workers in periods of unemployment is often inadequate and fails to reach many that need it. Both Unemployment Insurance and the public assistance programs for poor single mothers need to be strengthened. Oregon workers need better protection from the worst of recessions, but they also need better ways to capture some of the benefits from expansions. Greater investment in education, improving the minimum wage, and successful union organizing will improve the economic well being of workers for years to come.