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Report: Almost One-Third of OR Families Face Financial Insecurity

January 31, 2012

PORTLAND, Ore. - A new national survey released today ranks states on how well residents do to achieve financial security, and recommends state policies that could make it easier for people to save, build assets and pull themselves out of poverty.

The Assets and Opportunities Scorecard indicates poverty may be one pressing problem for Oregon - but the risk of poverty is another, with 28 percent of the state's households unprepared for any type of financial hit, from job loss to a major medical bill or car repair.

The nonprofit Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) says Oregonians make less money than the average American worker – with average annual pay of $40,590 versus $46,751 – and housing costs grab a much higher percentage of their income. Janet Byrd, executive director of Neighborhood Partnerships, says that combination makes it tough for people in Oregon to save.

"We need more diversity of job opportunities; we need to really nurture small business development; to create a sector of new jobs that will pay people those family wages or living wages."

The report says half of Oregonians (50.7%) have sub-prime credit, and more than one in three (37.6%) could not pay their living expenses for three months if they lost a job - and that includes people at all income levels. To Patti Whitney-Wise, who heads the Oregon Hunger Task Force, the findings aren't surprising. She says hunger figures spiked during the latest recession.

"And we surmise that most of that has to do with the fact that there aren't those rainy-day funds available to many families. They were making just enough to get by, spending from paycheck to paycheck - not enough to save for when times got hard."

One step the Legislature could take is to put some money back into the hands of the lowest-wage workers, by expanding the state's Earned Income Tax Credit, says Whitney-Wise.

"We've been working for several years now to try to get it raised up to 18 percent, which would mean most low-wage families would not begin paying taxes 'til they hit the poverty level. And most states do not tax families in poverty - we're one of the few that does."

CFED also suggests the state do a better job of helping homeowners facing foreclosure, and increasing financial education in schools.

Overall, Oregon ranks 27th out of the 50 states. The report is online at scorecard.cfed.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR