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Report: Low Marks for OR Lawmakers on Racial Equity

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January 16, 2012

SALEM, Ore. - As a group, Oregon lawmakers have not done much to ensure that non-white Oregonians have anything close to the same chances for success as white Oregonians. That's the finding of a new report that gives the state Senate a grade of "C" - and the House a "D" - based on their votes last session on bills that could have improved the financial security, health or educational opportunities for people of color.

Kalpana Krishnamurthy, director of the RACE Program at the Western States Center, says that is important because Oregon has become a real melting pot.

"A place like Malheur County is 36 percent people of color. Lake County is 13 percent; Jefferson County is 38 percent people of color. We're not just talking about I-5 and urban centers. We're talking about the entire state, and the demographics of our state really changing."

The report examines the fate of 23 pieces of legislation. Some of them, like home loan modifications, could benefit all families, no matter what their race.

According to the latest census, people of color make up more than 21 percent of Oregon residents. Joseph Santos-Lyons, a coordinator with the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), says public policies in the state have not kept up with the changing demographics.

"We believe that the Legislature has to understand that Oregon's future prosperity is linked to our ability to provide fair opportunities and economic stability to all residents - and there's a wide gap between white Oregonians and Oregonians of color."

Krishnamurthy says there are ways to minimize racial disparities - although in another tight budget year, the Legislature also risks making the problems worse.

"Oregon has some very tough decisions to make about what we fund, and about how to find a balance between revenues and expenses. But if we do these cuts in ways that don't look at racial equity, we will exacerbate some of these growing opportunity gaps in our state."

The report says statewide poverty figures reflect the legislature's inaction on some issues. For whites in Oregon, the poverty rate is about 13 percent, but for Native Americans, it is 23 percent. It's almost 29 percent for Latinos, 39 percent for African Americans and just over 40 percent for Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.

The full report, "Facing Race: 2011 Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity in Oregon," is available at www.westernstatescenter.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR