The Poverty Reduction Initiative
The stars are aligned in Oregon to mount a significant initiative aimed at reducing poverty and moving people into the middle class. Reducing Oregon’s poverty rate from its current level (16.7 percent) to less than 10 percent is one of the top three goals of the Oregon Business Plan and a high priority of the Oregon Business Council.
OBC formed a Poverty Task Force in 2013 to better understand poverty in Oregon and to work with other advocates to find solutions. As one of its first tasks it commissioned ECONorthwest to conduct the analysis that led to the white paper, A Path to Prosperity. The paper describes poverty in Oregon and the Oregon Business Plan strategy to help more Oregonians share in prosperity.
That strategy includes 1) better education access and attainment for traditionally under served students, 2) a stronger workforce development system to connect people with good paying jobs, and 3) improvements in social safety net policies that now discourage people in poverty from seeking more education and better paying work.
Policy and Background Materials on Poverty in Oregon
A Path to Prosperity white paper
Poverty in Oregon slide presentation
Op-ed article on poverty reduction legislative recommendations co-authored by Dave Underriner, chair of the OBC Poverty Task Force, The Oregonian, OregonLive
“Dispelling myths about and investing wisely in people living in poverty” opinion piece in the Portland Business Journal by Ken Thrasher, a member of the OBC Poverty Reduction Task Force.
Business Group, Lawmakers Target Child Poverty, opinion piece by David Sarasohn, columnist and editor at The Oregonian.
Faces of Poverty, personal stories and facts
In a visit with Oregon leaders national poverty expert David Riemer presented a five-point plan that he argued could reduce poverty nationally by as much as half. Here is a slide show and a brief that accompanied his talk. Also, read about simulation modeling of the five-point plan, Reducing Poverty in the United States.
In its work so far, the Poverty Task Force has learned that many of the causes of poverty and the barriers to overcoming poverty have been built into the very structure of our economy and public services systems. For example:
- Poverty impacts different groups in different ways, yet the tools we have developed tend to be “one size fits all”.
- There are good living wage jobs in Oregon for which businesses cannot find qualified applicants. This mismatch of skills to available jobs poses a challenge to a skilled workforce and an opportunity for increasing the number of people who can be employed at a living wage.
- The current public assistance benefits package in Oregon has a steep drop off when people begin to transition towards a stable income. This is sometimes called the “benefits cliff”. For example, when a single parent with two children moves from $30,000 to $35,000 in annual income, the steep reduction of public assistance benefits can amount to an effective marginal tax rate of more than 90 percent. Such policies serve as a disincentive for those in poverty to achieve financial self-reliance.
- The public, non-profit, and private resources intended to help people move out of poverty into prosperity are often fragmented, leading to a chronic scarcity of resources; or they are targeted at delivering inputs rather than providing quality outcomes.
Policy Advocacy Under Way
As indicated on the home page, OBC directors and other business leaders on the Poverty Task Force have joined with community organizations to advocate state policies and investments aimed at reducing poverty in Oregon. For OBC this advocacy is based on the 2015 Poverty Reduction Recommendations of the Poverty Task Force and the Oregon Business Plan. These recommendations include redesigning short-term assistance to needy families, improving child care access, making changes in benefits rules, and expanding tax credits.
This advocacy work grows out of a Prosperity Agenda Design Lab that OBC sponsored this past November to take a fresh look at Oregon poverty and to develop promising long-range solutions. (See bios of the designers and facilitators.) In preparation for the design lab, we held eight Stakeholder Forums around the state in October to solicit comments and recommendations for the policy work. (See more about the Design Lab and the Stakeholder Forums and their results.)
This work is supported by grants from the Northwest Area Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.