Wealth Inequality in Oregon Is Extreme

Wealth Inequality in Oregon Is Extreme

Wealth Inequality in Oregon Is Extreme

How extreme is wealth inequality in Oregon? So extreme that, together, three billionaires residing in the state have about twice the wealth as that of the entire bottom half of Oregonians.

Wealth inequality is vital to understanding the economic insecurity so many Oregonians endure. Wealth refers to the sum of all the assets a person owns, minus all of their debts. Assets can take many forms, including real estate, stocks and other financial instruments, and ownership of businesses. This differs from another measure of economic well-being: income, which refers to how much a person receives in a year. Because wealth is the accumulation of assets and income over years and generations, it represents a more profound measure of a family’s ability to ride the ups and downs of the economy, to generate greater income, to provide educational and economic advantages to children, and to exercise political power through the use of money.

As extreme as income inequality is in Oregon, wealth is concentrated in even fewer hands. This report relies on analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) of data from the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), Forbes estimates on U.S. billionaire wealth, and ITEP’s own Microsimulation Tax Model.[1]

Three billionaires together own about twice as much as do half of all Oregonians

Three billionaires in Oregon collectively own about twice the wealth of the bottom half of all Oregonians. These three wealthiest individuals together hold about $53 billion in wealth.[2] The bottom half of all Oregonians — about 950,000 tax filers — together own about $27 billion.[3] Oregon’s wealthiest billionaire, Nike co-founder Phil Knight, alone owns more wealth than the bottom half of Oregonians.

 

The top tenth of Oregonians owns more than three-quarters of the state’s wealth

Oregon’s inequitable distribution of wealth is not confined only to the billionaire class. The bulk of the state’s wealth is in the hands of a relatively small share of Oregonians. Specifically, the top 10 percent of Oregonians collectively own more than $1.2 trillion, more than 75 percent of all wealth in the state.

The wealthiest 1 percent owns more than the bottom 90 percent

Within the top 10 percent, wealth skews toward the top. The wealthiest 1 percent of Oregonians collectively own about $588 billion, more than a third of all wealth in the state and more than the bottom 90 percent of Oregonians own together.

 

Wealth inequality looks even worse through a racial lens

The grim picture of wealth inequality worsens when applying a racial lens. Although the ITEP analysis itself does not disaggregate data by race, other research confirms that wealth is concentrated in the hands of white Americans.[4] For instance, while the typical white household in the U.S. has $187,300 in wealth, the typical Latino and Black households have wealth of $31,700 and $14,100 respectively.[5]

The racial wealth gap is the product of centuries of racial exclusion and oppression, as well as ongoing forms of discrimination. Although many factors have contributed to the racial wealth gap, racist housing policies stand out, given that homeownership is the primary asset for most families.[6] Oregon was founded through the colonization and genocide of Indigenous people and theft of their lands.[7] Oregon’s founding constitution prohibited Black people from owning land, a primary means of wealth generation.[8] In more recent history, the redlining and later gentrification of historically Black neighborhoods have stripped families of the opportunity to build wealth.[9]

Oregon can push back against wealth inequality

Wealth inequality is a problem of national scope, requiring federal action. In recent years, researchers have put forward sound ideas for how Congress can tackle wealth inequality.[10]

States, too, can take action to reduce wealth inequality. Some of the steps the Oregon legislature can take in this regard are the following:

    • Boost worker power. Removing the obstacles that make it hard for workers to bargain collectively would enable workers to achieve better wages, benefits, and working conditions. It would, in other words, enable workers to capture more of the prosperity they generate through their labor.

 

    • Raise taxes on the wealthy. Tax policy is a powerful tool to advance equity, and Oregon lawmakers should use it. One of the most direct ways to tax concentrated wealth directly would be to strengthen Oregon’s estate tax. Another way would be to tax mansions or other expensive properties, though this approach would require changes to Oregon’s constitution — specifically, reforming Oregon’s complicated and inequitable property tax system and ban on real estate transfer taxes. Oregon could also pursue an indirect strategy of raising income taxes on the richest Oregonians. In this regard, reforming Oregon’s inequitable tax rebate known as the “kicker” — which disproportionately flows to the richest Oregonians — would be an important step.

 

  • Ensure that Oregonians can meet their basic needs. Oregon can address the problem of wealth inequality by making wealth less important to achieving economic security — by ensuring all Oregonians can meet their basic needs. This means ensuring that all Oregonians have access to affordable and quality housing, education, health care, and transportation. A key policy to help families meet basic needs is a guaranteed income, where families below a certain income threshold receive cash payments. Another effective policy would be establishing the Oregon Kids’ Credit, a state-based child tax credit, which would boost the economic security of low-income families with children.

Conclusion

Wealth inequality in Oregon is extreme, with just three billionaires owning more than does half of Oregon’s population. All told, the richest 10 percent of Oregonians hold more than 75 percent of the state’s wealth. Oregon can address wealth inequality by boosting worker power, raising taxes on the wealthy, and ensuring all Oregonians can meet their basic needs.


[1] For a more detailed explanation of the methodology employed, see Carl Davis et. al., The Geographic Distribution of Extreme Wealth in the U.S., Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, October 13, 2022, Data and Methodology.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all figures in this fact sheet are Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates provided to the Oregon Center for Public Policy. Wealth estimates for Oregon’s three billionaires extracted from Forbes on August 12, 2022.

[3] Estimated number of tax filers making up the bottom 50 percent of Oregonians is OCPP analysis of Oregon Department of Revenue data for the 2020 tax year, the most recent available. Data are for full-year filers.

[4] Mira Mohsini, Khanya Msibi, and Andres Lopez, Addressing the Racial Wealth Gap, Coalition of Communities of Color, 2022.

[5] OCPP analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, 2020 Survey of Income and Program Participation, public-use data.

[6] Op. cit., Mohsini, Msibi, and Lopez, 2022.

[7] Our Story, Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde; Don’t Evict PDX, Land Back Statement.

[8] The Oregonian, Oregon’s Founders Sought A ‘White Utopia,’ a Stain of Racism that Lives on Even as State Celebrates its Progressivism, Updated June 15, 2020.

[9] Gibson, K. J. (2007). Bleeding Albina: A history of community disinvestment, 1940‐2000. Transforming Anthropology, 15(1), 3-25.

[10] See, e.g., Carl Davis et. al., The Geographic Distribution of Exteme Wealth in the U.S., Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, October 13, 2022; Alexandra Thorton and Galen Hendricks, Ending Special Tax Treatment for the Very Wealthy, Center for American Progress, June 4, 2019; Greg Leiserson, Taxing Wealth, Washington Center for Equitable Growth, January 28, 2020.

Tyler Mac Innis

Tyler Mac Innis

Tyler Mac Innis is a Policy Analyst with the Oregon Center for Public Policy

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