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Report: More Oregonians Fall into Job and Wage Gaps

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December 11, 2008

Portland, OR – Working hard in Oregon is often not enough to make ends meet, according to a new report from the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations. It compares job openings and wages for those jobs to the numbers of job seekers and costs of living for every county in a four-state area. The findings were similar in Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Washington, and the figures are for 2007, before this year's economic downturn.

The report, "Tough Times for Northwest Families," calculates a "living wage" for different family sizes, based on meeting a basic household budget. In Oregon, 39 percent of the available jobs pay less than a living wage ($13 an hour for singles with no children), and job seekers outnumber jobs paying better than that by four to one.

Executive Director Joann Bowman with the advocacy group Oregon Action says the proposed cuts to social services in Gov. Ted Kulongoski's new state budget appear to be out of touch with what's happening in the job market.

"We're going to spend a million dollars to do repairs for the Pendleton Roundup but we're significantly cutting funds for people who are in desperate need of health care and general assistance support and food stamps. Our priorities are really upside-down."

For a couple with two children, the news is worse, Bowman says. The report estimates their living wage in Oregon at a little more than $25 per hour, but 86 percent of the open jobs pay less than that, and there are 17 job seekers for every one of the better-paying positions. Little wonder, she adds, that having two jobs is the only way some people can make it.

"We're talking about people who are not averse to hard work, people who are putting in significant hours–-and for what? If they were getting a living wage, it would do so much more for our community, because people could spend time with their families instead of working two or three jobs."

The report suggests that the state use living-wage figures to set eligibility for public assistance; invest in education, job training and publicly funded job programs; and shore up the safety net, with better transportation and access to health care. The Oregon legislature will be wrestling with those issues-–and a state budget shortfall of almost $1 billion-–in January.

The full report is available at www.nwfco.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR