At the peak of Oregon’s economic expansion rural Oregonians were more than twice as likely to live in homes with hunger than were residents of rural areas nationally, according to an analysis of recently released census data by the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP). Workers and renters in Oregon were also more likely to live in homes with hunger than workers and renters nationally.
OCPP’s analysis of Census data for 1998 through 2000 showed that 7.2 percent of rural Oregonians lived in homes with hunger, compared with just 3.1 percent of rural residents nationally. Oregon’s overall hunger rate for 1998-2000 was 6.2 percent. The national rate over the same period was 3.3 percent.
“These findings confirm that Oregon’s rural economy is failing many of its residents,” said Michael Leachman, policy analyst for OCPP. “There aren’t enough jobs, too many jobs pay low wages, and too many jobs disappear in the winter.”
“A high hunger rate during our best economic times is particularly troubling and helps explain the increased demand at food banks throughout the state,” said Leachman. “The prosperity of the 1990s was too short-lived in rural Oregon to make up for the long-term economic decline.”
Leachman noted that the annual earnings of workers in all regions of the state except the Portland area were lower in 2000 than they were in 1979, after adjusting for inflation. On the Oregon Coast, earnings were down 19 percent.
Leachman added that in the last half of the 1990s, Oregon’s rural counties posted an unemployment rate substantially higher than the rate in rural areas nationally. Moreover, he said, the unemployment rate in rural Oregon fluctuated much more than the rate in rural areas nationally.
Oregon’s hunger rates for workers and renters were significantly higher than the rates nationally in 1998-2000. Workers in Oregon had a hunger rate of 4.4 percent, while nationally 2.3 percent of workers lived in homes where at least one member went hungry. Renters in Oregon had a hunger rate of 11.5 percent, compared to 7.2 percent nationally.
“Workers in Oregon are more likely to work in low-wage service and retail industries than their parents were,” said Leachman. “On average, the poorest fifth of families in the state earned less income in the late 1990s than they did ten or twenty years earlier.”
Workers and Renters
The rental cost squeeze is a key part of the reason for Oregon’s high hunger rate, said Leachman. “People who don’t have enough money to pay the bills know they can skip a meal and get by until the next day. They may be tired at work and less active at home, but they’ll still have a roof over their heads.”
Oregon’s 6.2 percent overall hunger rate means Oregon has one of the highest rates in the nation. Because of sampling error in the Census survey, it is only likely, not certain, that Oregon’s is the highest in the nation. Oregon also posted likely the highest state hunger rate on an earlier version of the survey conducted in 1996-98.
The OCPP analyzed three years of data (1998 to 2000) from the Food Security Supplement to the Current Population Survey, a Census Bureau survey conducted once a year in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The survey determines whether households are “food insecure” – financially stretched to the point they cannot be certain all household members will avoid hunger without resorting to emergency measures like soup kitchens or food banks. Some food insecure households avoid hunger; others do not. The survey also determines whether at least one household member went hungry at times because there was not enough money for food.