We Nor’westerners like to think we live in a very special place and that all of America wants to move in next door. We bask in our oceanfront properties, covet our mountains and the water streaming down to our gorgeous valleys. We love the nearly always blue skies overhead. Trees. Deserts. Wildlife. We’re full of self-love for our multi-state neighborhood and we think of it all as pretty special.
So, how would you react if someone told you Oregon (specifically) is one of the worst states in which to make a living? I mean, what if the sources of that terrible news were reliable? Sure got my attention.
Some background. A respected outfit called MoneyRates.com recently statistically examined all states to figure out where average workers could make a good living. And where they couldn’t. Five criteria were used and sources were multiple: (1) average wages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; (2) cost of living from the Council for Community and Economic Research; (3) state tax rates from the research group Tax Foundation; (4) unemployment rate from U.S. Bureau of Labor; (5) incidents of workplace illness, injuries and fatalities compiled by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration folks. Pretty authoritative sources.
When computers regurgitated the results, Hawaii ranked as the worst state for workers based on all those parameters. Given the cost of living alone, finding Hawaii as the worst place for workers to get a break was not terribly surprising.
But what WAS a shock - at least to this former member of the everyday workforce - was that Oregon was #2. Or rather, 49th. Oregon! Right here in the middle of our Nor’western paradise! Oregon! And, even worse, that was down 11 slots from a year ago!
Again, using those same five criteria, cost of living here was determined to be almost 30% above national average. Average income was $46,850 - lower than 48 other states. Hawaii at #50 posted a $46,230 average.
Oregon has had recent high unemployment, though figures swing wildly depending on which county or which trade you’re talking about. And we’ve got a workplace safety incidence of 4.2 per 100 workers. We also had a numerical rise in workplace fatalities from 2014. I suspect timber and commercial fishing contribute heavily to those categories.
And in the fifth ranking - state taxes on average income - workers would pay about $3,982.50 on that annual income of $46,230. Plus federal. Only slightly more than Hawaii. But more.
Now, here’s shock #2. At least for me. The state rated second best for workers of all stripes to make a living was - was - Washington! Yep, our northern neighbor skunked us. But - ah ha - Washington slipped to #2 from the top spot a year earlier. So there! Wyoming was #3. But, consider this: neither state has a state income tax though they offer attractive employment opportunities and favorable cost-of-living environments.
So, who came out on top as the best state with the most favorable employment and living conditions for the American worker? Which state was considered nirvana for the 8-to-5 crowd? Where can you find the best of the best in all 50 states for working stiffs?
Texas. TEXAS! Now, as Deano famously said “Ain’t that a kick in the head?” The state’s gross domestic product expanded 3.7 percent last year compared with 1.8 percent for the rest of the country. Cost-of-living is below average and there’s no state income tax. Only Louisiana had a lower record of on-the-job injuries or fatalities.
But, back to Oregon and the very low ranking as a good place for the average worker to live and ply a trade. While the state may not offer a welcoming statistical climate for workers, I’d like to see a similar ranking system for which states lure the most retirees. People with spendable incomes not looking for employment. People who contribute big bucks to a solid, active economic growth.
Retirees aren’t terribly worried about a state income tax or injuries on the job or average wage scales or even unemployment. If they’ve done their homework prior to retiring, and if the cost-of-living is deemed to be suitable, given Oregon’s spectacular spread of natural and scenic wonders, moderate climate and comfortable small communities, retirees can boost a state’s economy in many ways while not demanding a lot of special services aside from satisfactory health care.
Still, none of us likes to see our home state ranked at the bottom of most surveys. But this one especially galls. Texas? TEXAS?