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Rethinking Ways to Help Oregon Families Get Ahead

PHOTO: Crafting policies that can narrow the historically high income gaps in Oregon and the U.S. is a focus of this week's Neighborhood Partnerships RE:conference in Salem. Photo credit: abluecup/iStockphoto.com
PHOTO: Crafting policies that can narrow the historically high income gaps in Oregon and the U.S. is a focus of this week's Neighborhood Partnerships RE:conference in Salem. Photo credit: abluecup/iStockphoto.com
October 27, 2014

SALEM, Ore. – When communities put the right programs and policies in place, they can spark progress for families. This week, a two-day conference in Salem examines what Oregon could be doing to make the biggest impact.

The Oregon nonprofit group Neighborhood Partnerships calls it a RE:conference – a chance to rethink and rebuild strategies for affordable rent and home ownership, small-business creation and financial stability.

One speaker is Thomas Shapiro, director of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University's Heller School of Social Policy. He says income inequality now threatens the nation's values and its ability to move forward, but he describes his message as hopeful.

"There's a whole lot that states can do,” he says. “It's always a question of people understanding where their current policies are taking them, and then the will to bend that arc and have it go in a much more democratic and fairer direction."

Policies include how states handle estate taxes, the minimum wage and whether they have an Earned Income Tax Credit, he explains.

And since Oregon is known for its high housing costs, the conference will focus on strengthening programs to make home ownership more accessible and encourage development of affordable housing.

Shapiro blames what he calls toxic inequality for many families' inability to get ahead. He says it's a combination of historically high wealth inequality and policies from the last century that don't fit the country's changing demographics.

"Demographics are not destiny,” he maintains. “But our institutions and policymakers are simply not prepared for this kind of transition. We can see it in our schools, we can see it in the workforce, we can see it in policy."

The RE:conference starts Wed., Oct. 29, at the Salem Convention Center. Day one of the two-day conference is about housing opportunity. Day two focuses on financial health, from credit building and retirement savings to reaching out to people who don't use traditional banking services.

The event also is a celebration of the 25th anniversary of Neighborhood Partnerships.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR