This month's Westside Economic Alliance column unravels the modern history of changes throughout Washington County
The landscape in Washington County has evolved over the years.
My husband and I bought our first home in 1974 on Murray Boulevard between Allen Boulevard and Farmington Road. Back then, there was a large open field behind our home, and Murray Boulevard appeared to be a boundary between the suburbs and the country. We were definitely on the "outskirts" of Beaverton. In the mid-1970's, Washington County had close to 200,000 residents. Today, the population is nearly three times greater at 540,000. Growth in Washington County continues to outpace the rest of the state. According to forecasts, the projected population of Washington County is expected to be more than 920,000 by 2040.
An increase in population in any community, large or small, is largely driven by job growth. Washington County is frequently referred to as the "economic engine" of Oregon. Over the past year, 6,200 new jobs have been created in the county. The largest employers account for 25 percent of the 286,100 jobs located here. This group is led by the high-tech industry followed in order by the outdoor apparel industry, healthcare, school districts, and the retail sector. The median household income in the United States is $55,775. By comparison, the median household income in Washington County is $70,447. All this adds up to the fact that Washington County contributes more than 16 percent to the State's tax base and certainly deserves the moniker "the economic engine of Oregon".
While we are talking about jobs, I think it is important to note where Washington County residents work. Of the 241,099 working residents, 53 percent of them live and work in the county. That means 47 percent of the working residents (more than 113,000 people) use some form of transportation to get to their jobs outside the county. Add in a growing student population and it should be no surprise to see crowded highways, full light rail trains, busy bike lanes and packed buses.
When looking at the county from the perspective of population and the prosperity it enjoys, it is also important to see not everyone is thriving — there are insecurities in our region too. Oregon has one of the highest food insecurity rates in the country. Nearly 20 percent of Oregonians in 2013 participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP — or formerly known as food stamps), making us the highest participation rate in the nation. In Washington County, 11 percent of the population benefits from SNAP. In Beaverton School District, approximately 30 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches. The County reports that there are approximately 600 homeless people both sheltered and unsheltered. With the unemployment rate at 4.2 percent, it may appear that the economy is strong, but we also need to assist those who are struggling.
This is why it's important to continue to advocate for strong economic policies, where all Oregonians can thrive. We need to continue to work in supporting both the private and public sectors that make this a vibrant region where our workforce — both present and future — can learn and gain valuable skills for the jobs of tomorrow, where we can make long range plans for transportation, land use, water, and other necessities and where we can contribute in caring for those who can't care for themselves. These are the issues we need to keep in perspective, so we can continue to live, work, and play in a great region.
January 2017 is a long time from 1974 — more than 40 years. Washington County has grown to be strong, vibrant and economically sound, but there are issues that still need attention as a result of our growth.
Pamela Treece is the executive director of the Westside Economic Alliance. Her column appears monthly, addressing issues that are critical to the economic health of the Westside. You can learn more about us at: westsidealliance.org