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1 in 10 Oregon jobs to pay more, following minimum wage hike

Commentary Photo by Mr. Blue MauMau, flickr.com/photos/bluemaumau

Photo by Mr. Blue MauMau, flickr.com/photos/bluemaumau

July 1, 2021By Audrey Mechling

More than 200,000 jobs — more than one in 10 of all jobs in Oregon — will pay more starting July 1, when a scheduled minimum wage increase takes effect, according to data from the Oregon Employment Department. Though this wage increase is welcome news for low-wage workers in Oregon, it falls short of what workers need to make ends meet.

Minimum wage workers across Oregon will see their wages go up on July 1: workers in urban counties will receive an increase of 75 cents per hour, while workers in Oregon’s rural counties will see a 50 cents per hour raise. For a minimum wage employee working full time, the wage increase will mean a boost in annual income of $1,560 or $1,040 for urban and rural counties respectively.

Oregon’s minimum wage varies by region, the result of legislation enacted in 2016 that set up a three-tier structure. On the first of July, the hourly minimum wage will rise to $14 in the Portland metro area, to $12 in rural counties, and to $12.75 in the rest of Oregon.

In some rural counties, a much higher portion of jobs will benefit. In Wheeler County, for instance, about one in five jobs will get a pay increase, according to the Oregon Employment Department.

This wage increase will help the many families living in poverty despite the fact that they work, cover basic necessities like food and transportation. Many of these workers lost weeks or months of wages during the pandemic. They include many undocumented workers who have been forced to make ends meet with minimal government assistance.

Still, the minimum wage doesn’t come close to providing economic security. Families that spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing fall in the federal government’s definition of being “cost burdened,” meaning they may struggle to pay for other necessities such as food, transportation, and medical care. Even after the new wage increase, a one-bedroom apartment in all but three counties — Harney, Malheur, and Wheeler Counties — will eat up more than 30 percent of the income of a full-time minimum wage worker. In some counties the minimum wage would need to jump an additional $11 per hour or more for a minimum wage worker to be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

It is time for the Oregon legislature to take additional steps to boost the take-home pay of workers, such as increasing the state Earned Income Tax Credit, stamping out wage theft, and further strengthening the minimum wage to something closer to a real living wage. We have made progress in recent years, but Oregon must do more to ensure that every full-time worker is able to secure a safe and decent standard of living.