Working But Still Poor

Fact Sheet
June 27, 2013 Download PDF
Note: This report has been updated. View the revised report.

A View of the State of Working Oregon

Work is not a sure path out of poverty. The official poverty line, based on a formula developed in the early 1960s, underestimates what it takes to make ends meet today. But even with the bar set too low by an outdated calculation, many working Oregon families are unable to rise above poverty.

Lawmakers can help make work pay for working families living in poverty. A top priority should be to renew and strengthen the Oregon’s Earned Income Tax Credit. Lawmakers should also more fully fund programs that support working families, such as child care programs and the job training program for families with dependent children.

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The poverty rate among all Oregon families with children with at least one parent working full time has increased.[1]

In 2011, the most recent year with data available, 6.3 percent of Oregon families with children lived below the poverty line — $18,530 for a family of three — despite having at least one parent work more than 35 hours per week.

After years of no significant change, this was an increase over the previous year (2010) and over four of the five years since 2006, the year before the Great Recession began.

Most families with children living in poverty in Oregon are working families. In other words, a poor child in Oregon likely has a working parent.

In 2011, among Oregon’s poor families with children, about 7 out of every 10 had at least one parent who worked. And more than a fifth (22 percent) had at least one parent who worked full time in 2011.

While the majority of poor families with children have a worker present, families living in poverty often confront barriers to employment, such as physical or mental health problems, children’s health issues, domestic violence, and/or lack of affordable child care.[2]

Full-time work was less likely to be enough for a parent to lift her or his family above the poverty line in 2011 than it was in 2010 and in 2009, the year the recession officially ended.

In 2011, 26 percent of children in poverty lived in a home in which at least one parent worked full time.

Single working mothers are more likely to live in poverty than single working fathers in Oregon.

In 2011, 33 percent of all single working mothers lived below the poverty line, compared to 20 percent of single working fathers. Among single parents working full time, 14 percent of single mothers and 5 percent of single fathers lived in poverty.

Women tend to earn less than their male counterparts. In addition, women are more likely to work in low-wage jobs, part-time jobs or temporary jobs.[3]

Lawmakers Can Help Ensure that Work Pays for Poor Families

Lawmakers can help make work pay for families living in poverty. First and foremost, they should renew and strengthen the Oregon Earned Income Tax Credit. The credit allows low-income working families to keep more of what they earn to cover basic needs.

Second, lawmakers can better fund work supports for poor working families. For example, the Employment Related Day Care program, which subsidizes child care for low-income working families, is so poorly funded that eligible parents must first be on a waiting list.

Third, lawmakers can better fund the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) program, an employment and training program for very poor families with dependent children.

The majority of families with children living in poverty in Oregon are working families. Oregon can do more to help ensure that work pays for families who are poor despite their work efforts.

[1] All data in this fact sheet is from OCPP analysis of American Community Survey data, unless otherwise noted.

[2] For a discussion of barriers to employment see: Heidi Goldberg, Improving TANF Program Outcomes for Families With Barriers to Employment, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, January 22, 2002.

[3] For more on the gender pay gap, see: Jane Farrell and Sarah Jane Glynn, “What Causes the Gender Wage Gap?,” Center for American Progress, April 19, 2013, and Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn, “The Gender Pay Gap: Have Women Gone as Far as They Can?,” Academy of Management Perspectives, February 2007, pp. 7-23.