Oregon’s Rich Have Never Been Richer

Oregon’s Rich Have Never Been Richer

Oregon’s Rich Have Never Been Richer

By several measures, income inequality in Oregon has never been greater. In 2021, the year with the most recent data, the income flowing to Oregon’s richest 1 percent set a new record, topping the peak set on the eve of the Great Recession. The fortunes of the top 1 percent, however, pale in comparison those of the narrower slice who constitute the ultra-rich: the richest 0.1 percent — the richest 1 in every 1,000 Oregonians. The income of the ultra-rich has notched new records most years since 2012. As a result, the gulf between the ultra-rich and the Oregonian in the middle has never been wider.[1]

Income inequality undermines the well-being of Oregonians at a fundamental level. Recent studies point to inequality as a driving force behind a rise in chronic illness and premature death in the United States.[2] Research also shows that income inequality limits social mobility, hindering the possibility for a child born into poverty to move out of it. It leads to worse physical and mental health outcomes, particularly for those lower on the economic ladder. Moreover, income inequality slows economic growth, innovation, and investment.[3]

Income of Oregon’s ultra-rich sets yet another new record

In 2021, the average income of the top 0.1 percent of Oregonians jumped to nearly $8 million. That is the most the state’s ultra-rich have made in inflation-adjusted figures going back to 1980, the start of the data set. Since that time, the average annual income of Oregon’s ultra-rich has swelled nearly seven times over.

To be among the lucky 1,949 households in Oregon’s top 0.1 percent, a tax filer needed to earn more than $2.6 million in 2021.

The income of the merely rich also sets a new record

The richest 1 percent of Oregonians — the richest 1 out of every 100 tax filers — also saw record levels of income in 2021. The prior record for this group was set in 2007, on the eve of the Great Recession. That year, the income of the top 1 percent stood at $1.3 million, adjusted for inflation. In 2021, the income of the top 1 percent smashed that record, reaching about $1.7 million. Since 1980, the income of the top 1 percent has risen about 345 percent.

Typical Oregonian sees meager gains over the course of more than four decades

While the incomes of the rich have soared, the typical Oregonian’s income has made little progress. In 2021, the typical (median) Oregonian took home less than $44,000. That was just 15 percent more than what the typical Oregonian made in 1980, adjusted for inflation. For comparison, the inflation-adjusted incomes of the top 0.1 percent in Oregon have risen nearly 700 percent over that same span.

Typical Oregonian would need to work 182 years to match the top 0.1 percent

The typical Oregonian in 2021 would need to work for 182 years just to amass the average income of a member of the state’s top 0.1 percent made that year. A generation earlier in 1980, it would only have taken the typical Oregonian 26 years to take home the average income of the top 0.1 percent.

Top 1 percent collectively makes more than bottom half of Oregonians

The top 1 percent of Oregonians collectively made $31.8 billion in 2021. That is about $9 billion more than all of the income going to the bottom half of Oregonians. Together, the bottom half of Oregonians took home about $22.9 billion in 2021.

Runaway income inequality is not an accident. It is the result of policy choices that have given significant tax breaks to the wealthy and eroded worker power. Oregon lawmakers can take steps to reign in income inequality by enacting policies that raise taxes on the rich, and bolster protections for workers to organize for better wages and working conditions.


 

[1] This fact sheet uses the terms “Oregonians” and “taxpayers” interchangeably. Unless otherwise noted, these refer to all Oregon income tax filers. In some instances, Oregon Department of Revenue data is only available for full-year resident income tax filers. In those instances, we note that the data is for full-year filers in the chart’s footer with an endnote. Unless otherwise noted, all figures are OCPP analysis of Oregon Department of Revenue data.

[2] See Achenbach, Joel, Dan Keating, Laurie McGinley, Akilah Johnson, and Jahi Chikwendiu, “Dying Early: America’s Life Expectancy Crisis,” The Washington Post, October 3, 2023. See also Stephen Bezruchka, Inequality Kills Us All: COVID-19’s Health Lessons for the World (New York: Routledge, 2023); Kuo, Chun-Tung and Ichiro Kawachi, “Inequality, Social Mobility, and Deaths of Despair in the US, 2000-2019,” JAMA Network Open, July 12,2023; Lewer, Dan, Wikum Jayatunga, Roberty W Aldridge, Chantal Edge, Michael Marmot, Alistair Story, and Andrew Hayward, “Premature mortality attributable to socioeconomic inequality in England between 2003 and 2018: an observational study,” National Library of Medicine, January 2020.

[3] See Polacko, Matthew. “Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality – An Overview” Statistics, Politics and Policy, vol. 12, no. 2, 2021, pp. 341-357; Berg, Andrew G. and Jonathan D. Ostry, “Equality and Efficiency,” Finance & Development, Vol. 48, No. 3, September 2011; Ostry, Jonathan D., Andrew Berg and Charalambos G. Tsangarides, Redistribution, Inequality, and Growth, International Monetary Fund, February 2014; Boushey, Heather and Carter C. Price, How Are Economic Inequality and Growth Connected? A Review of Recent Research, Washington Center for Equitable Growth, October 2014; Ryder, Guy, Urgent Action Needed to Break Out of Slow Growth Trap, International Monetary and Financial Committee, International Monetary Fund, Thirty-Third Meeting, April 16, 2016; Dabla-Norris, Era, Kalpana Kochhar, Nujin Suphaphiphat, Frantisek Ricka, Evridiki Tsount, Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality: A Global Perspective, June 2015; “Trends in Income Inequality and its Impacts on Economic Growth,” OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 163, OECD Publishing, 2014; Orrson, James, Income Inequality in America: A Call for Action and Effective Policy, White Paper, May 2015; Chetty et al. “The Association Between Income and Life Expectancy in the United States, 2001-2014”, Clinical Review and Education, 2016. On the intersection between the COVID-19 pandemic and economic inequality, see Heather Boushey and Somin Park, The coronavirus recession and economic inequality: A roadmap to recovery and long-term structural change, Washington Center for Equitable Growth, August 31, 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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