Working Oregonians are making the state economy hum. We are outpacing much of the nation on a number of key economic measures. Oregon’s workers are producing goods and services much more efficiently than we were a few years ago.
With the economy on an upswing, Oregon’s workers should be seeing increased economic opportunities, but the numbers show they’re not. Who’s getting ahead? Not enough of us.
This report, a resource guide for policy makers, advocates, the media, and the general public, explains why.
- The jobs Oregon has produced since the 1990s economic boom ended have been concentrated in low-wage industries. In addition, Oregon jobs are less likely to offer health insurance today, and the costs to workers who accept their employers’ health coverage have increased.
- The income Oregonians are producing is going disproportionately to higher-income households. The only workers who have seen real wage gains since the economy started recovering are high-wage workers. Oregon CEOs have seen significant pay gains since the economic downturn, while wages for middle- and low-wage workers have lost ground.
- Investments that are crucial for middle- and low-income families trying to get ahead – buying a home, going to college, and paying for child care – have become less affordable.
- Protections for those in debt have diminished. While credit is more widely available than it used to be, Oregonians are losing substantial income to usurious and irresponsible lenders.
The economy is growing but too few Oregonians are getting ahead.
Some Oregonians believe that markets function through a natural process, like evolution, and that economic winners and losers are produced by blind market forces. This is not true. Markets are human institutions, shaped by changing cultural values, shifts in who has power, and policy decisions in the public sector and in private businesses.
As such, public policies affect who benefits from economic activity. For instance, if Oregon were to cut the income tax on capital gains, people with high incomes would disproportionately benefit. When Oregon raised the minimum wage, low-income workers were the direct beneficiaries. If Oregon makes college education more affordable, upward mobility becomes possible for a larger share of its citizens.
Public policies can also ameliorate the impact of private market decisions that threaten the common good. When businesses start rewarding their CEOs with lavish pay and retirement packages while scaling back on health insurance for the majority of workers, the CEOs win and the workers lose. That fuels the call for public policies to address the rise in uninsurance and the affordability of health care for workers outside the executive suite.
Some political actors today in Oregon are misinforming the public that Oregon’s economy is weak. They then use this claim to push public policies that would make it harder for middle- and low-income Oregonians to get ahead or that further enrich the wealthy few who are already reaping the lion’s share of the economy’s gains. The truth is that the economy is strong, but too many Oregonians are still not getting ahead. Oregon needs public policies that will channel more of the economy’s benefits to middle- and lowincome families who are struggling, not policies that will exacerbate the current imbalance.
Oregonians can choose a different path than the one we are on now. We can, and should, choose to support public policies that assure opportunities for all in a growing economy.