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Citizen's View: County must 'mind the gap' to help residents achieve financial security

All the political debate lately has reminded me of a recent visit to London, England. While boarding the Tube train on the Piccadilly line, a pleasant voice repeated time and again, “Please mind the gap.”

This was a warning to watch the step between the platform and the train. That expression has been repeated many times by my family as we recall our travels to the United Kingdom.

Here in the U.S. and closer to home in Oregon, politicians constantly warn us to mind a different kind of gap. In our county, Clackamas County, there are actually two related gaps: the income gap and the opportunity gap.

Clackamas County has four of the wealthiest ZIP codes in the state of Oregon. But our county has recovered only 68 percent of the jobs lost during the Great Recession. In addition, the average take-home pay is $200 per week less in Clackamas County than in Multnomah County. Clearly, there is a significant gap between the well-to-do households of Clackamas County and those still unemployed or earning less than average.

But there is good news. Clackamas County has a 10-percent greater rate of home ownership than the rest of the state. And what better way for a family to build wealth than by building equity through home ownership?

With home ownership as the bridge to wealth building, our elected leaders must identify and focus on methods to close the opportunity gap. Because in order to achieve home ownership, one must have the opportunity for a family wage job sufficient to pay a monthly mortgage.

It’s simple: Clackamas County needs more family wage jobs.

In addition, real estate prices must be moderate enough to enable home ownership for first-time buyers. The math is simple. If more housing is available for purchase, prices will moderate as a result of supply and demand. This has been proven time and time again.

If our goal for the future is to shrink the gap between those who have achieved financial security and those who still struggle, then Clackamas County must pursue policies that increase the number of family wage jobs and increase the availability of reasonably priced real estate.

With such policies in place, Clackamas County can lead the way with positive, time-tested solutions that close these gaps. Voters, the elections ahead are our opportunity, so “please mind the gap.”

Steve Bates is a 38-year resident of Boring, an unincorporated community in Clackamas County. He is also a declared candidate for Clackamas County Commission Position No. 3.