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Area sees poverty even in the midst of plenty

Look around. Prominent signs of the economic boom in Washington County are everywhere. But beneath the sheen of prosperity there’s still stubborn, entrenched poverty affecting a lot of our neighbors.

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released comprehensive reports on nationwide and state poverty in 2014. The reports revealed that in every state but two, the poverty rate is still higher than before the Great Recession that began in 2008.

“Despite decent employment growth in 2014, the persistent high unemployment yielded no improvements in wages and no improvement in the median incomes of working-age households and no reduction in poverty,” said Economic Policy Institute President Lawrence Mishel. “Anyone wondering why people in this country are feeling so ornery should look no further than this report.”

There are a lot of almost mind-numbing numbers in the reports, but behind those numbers are millions of Americans struggling with poverty that infects their lives 24 hours a day and shapes their future.Gahlsdorf

Community Action will address the situation and how people can find a path out of poverty at an Oct. 13 Empowerment Summit in Hillsboro.

For the past 50 years, Community Action has been leading the way to eliminate conditions of poverty and create opportunities for people and communities in Washington County. More than six years after the Great Recession officially ended, times are still tough for a lot of folks.

Whether somebody is classified as poor depends on family composition. A single person under 65 is poor with an annual income at or below $12,316. A family of four with two children under 18 is considered poor with an annual income of less than $24,008.

The basic poverty statistics don’t take into account the considerable value of non-cash benefits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, unemployment insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). All the evidence shows that these programs play a big role in helping lift families out of poverty.

The newest Census Bureau data shows that the national poverty rate fell from 15 percent in 2012 to 14.5 percent in 2013, but rose again to 14.8 percent in 2014. That translates to 46.7 million people in poverty.

What this means is that, despite numerous economic stimulus efforts, the national poverty rate in 2014 was still well above the pre-recession rate of 12.5 in 2007.

The Census Bureau reports reveal that the poverty rate for Oregon improved somewhat from 17.2 percent in 2012 to 16.7 percent in 2013 and 16.6 percent in 2014, but remains stubbornly high.

The share of children under 18 living in poverty fell from 23 percent in 2012 to 21.6 percent in 2013, but stayed steady at 21.6 percent in 2014.

Groups with the highest poverty rates in Oregon in 2014 were:

n Black/African-American: 38.3 percent;

n Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander: 32.2 percent;

n American Indian and Alaska Native: 28.1 percent;

n Hispanic or Latino origin: 26.4 percent.

The impact of low education is evident, with 26.5 percent of the 25-and-over population with less than a high school education living below the poverty level in 2014, compared with just 6.3 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

In Washington County, the share of the county’s population living in poverty in 2014 rose to 12.8 percent, up from 10.9 percent in 2013 and 2012 and 8.8 percent in 2007, before the Great Recession hit.

Children under 18 represented the largest share of county residents living in poverty in 2014, at 17.5 percent — a dramatic jump from 14.2 percent in 2013.

Groups with the highest poverty rates in the county in 2014 were:

n Hispanic or Latino origin: 28.7 percent;

n Black/African-American: 27.6 percent;

n American Indian and Alaska Native: 26.7 percent.

Overall, the Census data presents a bleak picture, revealing how the economy has failed to rebound from the Great Recession. It’s essential that economic growth resume and carry along with it millions of Americans living in poverty if they are to achieve the American dream.

Roger Gahlsdorf is owner of Roger Gahsldorf Insurance in Portland.


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