New Census Data Show More Poor In Oregon After Economic Growth of 1990s

News Release
May 14, 2002

The number of poor Oregonians increased by 43,873 over the 1990s, despite strong economic growth, according to 2000 Census data released today. In addition, over the decade, incomes grew only modestly for the typical household, while housing costs skyrocketed.

"The new Census data show that the poverty rate declined by the tail end of the economic boom," said Mike Leachman, a policy analyst with the Oregon Center for Public Policy. "The real story, though, is that the number of poor Oregonians increased over the decade. It is the number of poor people, not the percentage, that drives costs in the state budget."

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Census data

Prior Census data showed that the poverty rate held steady over most of the decade before falling slightly at the height of the economic boom at the end of the decade. According to the Census 2000 data released today, from 1989 to 1999, the poverty rate declined modestly from 12.4 percent to 11.6 percent while the number of poor increased.

"Oregon's anti-poverty efforts failed to keep up with Oregon's population increase," said Leachman.

"The rising number of poor Oregonians should concern taxpayers and state policy makers," said Leachman. "Oregon's unprecedented economic expansion of the 1990s left more Oregonians in poverty. That's more Oregonians needing help with education, health care, housing, and other important state services."

The Census data also revealed that Oregon's median household income grew over the 1990s by $4,304, 11 percent, after being adjusted for inflation. According to the 2000 Census, median income in 1999 was $40,916.

"The typical Oregon household saw some benefit from the strong economy of the 1990s, but most of the income growth from the economic boom went to families that were already well-off," said Leachman.

Leachman cited a recently released study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute which found that the richest fifth of families gained over $35,830 in income from the late 1980s to the late 1990s. The gap between rich and poor in Oregon grew four times faster than it grew nationally.

For the typical family, income growth over the 1990s did not keep pace with rapidly increasing single-family home costs. According to the 2000 Census data released today, the typical home in Oregon more than doubled in value over the decade, growing by 128 percent, two and one-half times faster than the income of the typical household.

The new Census data also show that there were nearly 10,000 more children in poverty in 1999, before the recession hit, than there were ten years earlier, while the number of seniors in poverty declined. "In the battle between public policy and poverty," said Leachman, "children were big losers in the 1990s."

"The new Census data shows the failure of the marketplace," said Charles Sheketoff, executive director of the OCPP. "It is a sad day when long term economic expansion leaves more people in poverty. Oregon needs a vigorous and accountable anti-poverty plan. State leaders are up in arms when salmon runs decline. They should be just as incensed when poverty numbers rise," he added.

The Oregon Center for Public Policy is a Silverton-based independent, public policy research institute that addresses tax, budget, economic, and public policies important to low and moderate income Oregonians, the majority of Oregonians.