Writings and observations

A dream deferred?

From a report by the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a stirring call to end racial segregation, was also a plea for economic justice. Dr. King headlined the speakers of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an event that sought to bring attention to the lack of economic opportunity faced by millions of Americans, particularly people of color.

Sadly, a little more than a half century after Dr. King’s speech, Oregonians of color generally are still worse off economically than whites by many measures.

In 2013, 16.7 percent of Oregonians lived in poverty. As bad as the poverty rate is for Oregon as a whole, it was worse for Oregonians of color.

In 2013, 15.5 percent of non-Hispanic white Oregonians lived in poverty. By contrast, 27.5 percent of Latinos, 30.6 percent of African-Americans, 31.2 percent of Native Americans, and 31.4 percent of Pacific Islanders lived in poverty. The poverty rate for Asians – 17.6 percent – was not significantly different from the white rate.

Aside from Asians, Oregonians of color were about twice as likely to live in poverty than whites in 2013.

In 2013, the typical (median) Oregon household earned $50,251. The income of the typical household of color, with the exception of Asians, was significantly less than that of the typical white household.

The income of the typical white household was $51,972 in 2013. This exceeded the incomes of the typical Latino, Pacific Islander, African-American and Native American households by about $13,000 or more. To put that in perspective, $13,000 is more than enough to cover a year’s worth of tuition, fees, books and supplies at Oregon State University. Only Asians had a median income higher than whites.

Work is hardest to find for black Oregonians. In 2014, the unemployment rate for black Oregonians was 13.6 percent, twice the white rate of 6.8 percent.

The unemployment rates for Latinos (9.6 percent) and Asians (4.4 percent) were not significantly different from the rate for whites.

Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment data does not include rates for Native Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Oregonians of color are less likely to own a home than their white counterparts. From 2011 to 2013, 62.9 percent of white Oregonians owned a home outright or through a mortgage. By contrast, 58.1 percent of Asians, 47.7 percent of Native Americans, 39.2 percent of Latinos, 33.1 percent of African-Americans, and 23.6 percent of Pacific Islanders owned a home.

Lawmakers can take steps to ensure all Oregonians, regardless of the color of their skin, have an opportunity to get ahead. Some of these include:

Raising the minimum wage. People of color make up a disproportionate share of the minimum wage workforce.[4] A full-time minimum wage worker does not earn enough to meet a family’s basic needs. Minimum wage workers need a substantial raise.

Making it harder for employers to steal wages. Too often employers commit wage theft by forcing workers to work off the clock, stealing tips or not paying their workers at all. Given that wage theft more commonly affects low-income workers,[5] it disproportionately harms Oregonians of color. Lawmakers need to put in place new rules that make it harder for dishonest employers to engage in wage theft and easier for workers to recover stolen wages.

Ensuring all children have health insurance coverage. Children need access to quality health care if they are to grow up healthy and succeed in school and life. In Oregon, about 17,600 children lack health insurance because of their immigration status. Lawmakers should enact the Cover All Kids legislation to ensure all children in Oregon have access to quality care.

Investing more in education. Oregon children sit in some of the nation’s most crowded public school classrooms. And about half of Oregon children arrive to kindergarten without having attended preschool, which helps prepare children to succeed academically.

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