Writings and observations

Call it a demographic trend, this one led, slightly, by Idaho.

For a long time Idaho, Washington and Oregon have had some population characteristics in common: a large central city (Boise, Seattle, Portland) with the pair of next largest cities spread out a little bit (Pocatello and Idaho Falls; Tacoma and Spokane; Eugene and Salem) and closely matched in population and sometimes exchanging ranking, well below the level of the lead city. These patterns have held for decades.

We’re now seeing some adjustment – new trends.

In the 2000 census we saw it first in Idaho, when the city of Nampa, lesss than20 miles from Boise, boomed and vaulted high over Pocatlelo and Idaho Falls to become the second-largest city in the state. If present trends continue, it could have double the population of either Pocatello or Idaho Falls by 2010. And also by that year, the city in between Boise and Nampa – Meridian – probably also will have surpassed Pocatello and Idaho Falls, which are far afield to the east.

Oregon’s pattern has had Portland in a distant lead among cities, with Eugene and Salem, substantial distances to the south, closely matched for second place. But much of 2005 saw headlines about the expansion efforts of the city of Beaverton, just over the hills west of Portland, to annex some of the large population of unincorporated residents nearby. That effort has aroused much controversy, but at least some of it eventually is likely to happen – many of these people live in effectively urban areas that really should be served by a city. When that does happen, Beaverton is a clear shot to become the second largest city in Oregon. (If growing Gresham, east of Portland, and now fourth-largest in the state, doens’t get there first.)

The development in Washington may be least expected statewide, though it shouldn’t be: Growth in Clark County, across the river from Portland in southwest Washington (and part of the Portland metro area), has for many years been the fastest in Washington. Meanwhile, growth in Spokane and Tacoma has been modest, and even Bellevue – fourth place in the state until Vancouver overtook it in this decade – has fallen short of boom-level.

Vancouver city (yellow) and urban area (gray)

Spokane and Tacoma each have populations just under 200,000; Vancouver’s now is 154,800 (compared to Bellevue’s 115,500). North of Vancouver lies a big territory of heavily developed unincorporated territory. As is the case with many prospective Beaverton annexees (and southwest of Boise too, among other places) many of the residents want to stay outside of city limits. But that will not last forever.

And maybe not for long. News reports today note that the Vancouver city is moving ahead with a massive annexation plan which would bring in as many as 65,000 new residents, and push Vancouver to second place among Washington cities. A series of informational meetings on the subject have been scheduled for January.

This effort may have many effects. One of the larger, and felt far afield from Clark County, may be the way Washington state re-perceives itsefl. And the way Tacoma and Spokane do.

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Oregon Senator Gordon Smith has an easy, relaxed manner, but if you watch his actions and especially his voting record, you get the sense of a careful careful man who picks his battles with pinpoint precision.

Gordon SmithHe has a difficult path to walk. At home, he has to remain acceptable to his Oregon audience, which in recent years has elected only him among Republican candidates to a statewide position. That is in large part because he presents the image of a moderate guy, definitely not a Democrat but – apparently at least – to the left of most of the Republican majority in the Senate. (Obviously his close ties to Democrat Ron Wyden, whose role is less complex, helps.) In Washington, there is that conservative majority to deal with: He could could lose all clout in the Senate if he veers too far from it. It’s a complex task, and Smith appears to have honed his calculus well.

So sometimes he splits the difference, but not randomly.

He disappointed a number of environmentalist Oregonians, for example, when he finally announced this week he would vote for a defense appropriation bill that included a provision allowing oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, after years of opposing the oil drilling. When the vote came, however, the oil drilling proposal failed in the Senate by four votes. Did Smith wait to announce his position until after he knew how the vote would come out, knowing his own would not be needed – and then be counted as standing with his caucus leaders?

He might deny it. But it wouldn’t be surprising. The man knows how to pick his battles.

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Just how phony and how minor is this invented controversy over the lack of recoginition of Christmas (as opposed to “Season’s Greetings”, “Happy Holidays” or “Xmas”?)

This phony: The top elected officials of our states, the governors, aren’t playing into it. Given an an easy, no-lose opportunity to play into the popular side of a controversy (if there really were one), they have punted in the easiest place possible: Their official Christmas cards.

We know this because the news organization stateline.org collected all 50 of the messages on those cards, minus the few guvs who don’t do cards. Only a few even used to C-word; none reallyplayed it up. From the Northwest:

Idaho: Governor Dirk Kempthorne: “May the spirit of this holiday season fill your heart with love, peace and serenity. Wishing you many blessings for the New Year.”

Oregon: Governor Ted Kulongoski: “PEACE – Paz, Paix, Pace, Frieden, Mir, Shalom, Heiwa, Salam, Heping”

Washington: Governor Christine Gregoire: “Happy Holidays from the Gregoires – Mike, Chris, Courtney and Michelle”

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The minimum wage, in theory, was set up to provide a floor income allowing anyone who worked (again, in theory) to earn enough to survive on a 40-hour per week job. At a federal rate of $5.15 an hour that has, of course, been something of a lie for quite a while now.

But the report released this week from the National Low Income Housing Coalition puts concrete numbers to what most of us assume. Natonally it notes, “more than 80% of all renter households live in jurisdictions where the minimum wage is less than half of the Housing Wage. In other words, the vast majority of renter households find themselves in localities in which decent housing is unaffordable unless their combined income exceeds that of two wage earners working full-time, with no vacation or sick days, at the minimum wage.” In other words, out of reach of even a couple both of whom work full time, at minimum wage.

And in the Northwest?

Here are the state summaries from the report:

For Idaho:

In Idaho, the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment is $603. In order to afford this level of rent and utilities, without paying more than 30% of income on housing, a household must earn $2,011 monthly or $24,137 annually. Assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks per year, this level of income translates into a Housing Wage of $11.60.

In Idaho, a minimum wage worker earns an hourly wage of $5.15. In order to afford the FMR for a two-bedroom apartment, a minimum wage earner must work 90 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. Or, a household must include 2.3 minimum wage earner(s) working 40 hours per week year-round in order to make the two bedroom FMR affordable.

In Idaho, the estimated mean (average) wage for a renter is $8.61 an hour. In order to afford the FMR for a two-bedroom apartment at this wage, a renter must work 54 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. Or, working 40 hours per week year-round, a household must include 1.3 worker(s) earning the mean renter wage in order to make the two-bedroom FMR affordable.

Monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments for an individual are $579 in Idaho. If SSI represents an individual’s sole source of income, $174 in monthly rent is affordable, while the FMR for a one-bedroom is $496.

For Oregon:

In Oregon, the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment is $682. In order to afford this level of rent and utilities, without paying more than 30% of income on housing, a household must earn $2,275 monthly or $27,298 annually. Assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks per year, this level of income translates into a Housing Wage of $13.12.

In Oregon, a minimum wage worker earns an hourly wage of $7.25. In order to afford the FMR for a two-bedroom apartment, a minimum wage earner must work 72 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. Or, a household must include 1.8 minimum wage earner(s) working 40 hours per week year-round in order to make the two bedroom FMR affordable.

In Oregon, the estimated mean (average) wage for a renter is $11.07 an hour. In order to afford the FMR for a two-bedroom apartment at this wage, a renter must work 47 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. Or, working 40 hours per week year-round, a household must include 1.2 worker(s) earning the mean renter wage in order to make the two-bedroom FMR affordable.

Monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments for an individual are $579 in Oregon. If SSI represents an individual’s sole source of income, $174 in monthly rent is affordable, while the FMR for a one-bedroom is $570.

In Washington:

In Washington, the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment is $757. In order to afford this level of rent and utilities, without paying more than 30% of income on housing, a household must earn $2,522 monthly or $30,268 annually. Assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks per year, this level of income translates into a Housing Wage of $14.55.

In Washington, a minimum wage worker earns an hourly wage of $7.35. In order to afford the FMR for a two-bedroom apartment, a minimum wage earner must work 79 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. Or, a household must include 2.0 minimum wage earner(s) working 40 hours per week year-round in order to make the two bedroom FMR affordable.

In Washington, the estimated mean (average) wage for a renter is $12.08 an hour. In order to afford the FMR for a two-bedroom apartment at this wage, a renter must work 48 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. Or, working 40 hours per week year-round, a household must include 1.2 worker(s) earning the mean renter wage in order to make the two-bedroom FMR affordable.

Monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments for an individual are $579 in Washington. If SSI represents an individual’s sole source of income, $174 in monthly rent is affordable, while the FMR for a one-bedroom is $617.

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The closest 2004 state House contest in Oregon was in District 10, which takes in much of the north-central coast (centering on Lincoln County). The Republican incumbent was Alan Brown, who just barely beat back a strong challenge from locally active Democrat Jean Cowan.

Alan BrownCowan announced a few months back she would try again. And now Brown, who acknowledges his district is tougher for him than it used to be, says he will run again as well, seeking a 4th term.

These are two good and impressive candidates, who ran a highly civil campaign last round. Given the history of the candidates, it probably will be highly civil again. But it stands to become one of the three or four most-watched races statewide in this cycle.

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If the logic that Oregon voters elect their top officials from the political middle holds true, then Pete Sorenson may be doing his rival for the Democratic nomination for governor, incumbent Ted Kulongoski, a favor.

Kulongoski historically has worn the liberal label without much modification, but a good many liberal Democrats in Oregon are upset that he hasn’t more acted the part in his three years so far as governor.

Pete SorensonAnd, entering the race for governor, that is Sorenson’s point specifically: “People across Oregon ask me who I am and why I’m running for governor. My answer is straightforward: I am a child of Oregon. Our great state is suffering. Our people are battling deepening economic adversity without any help. Oregon’s defining quality over the past half-century – the hope for a better tomorrow – is rapidly evaporating.”

The Lane County commissioner starts the race little known (though his name has been out there as a prospective candidate for months) and facing long odds – polling puts him in single digits against the incumbent governor. Assuming for the moment that indicators are correct and Kulongoski emerges as the Democratic nominee, how doesa this contest position him for the fall?

Primaries can cut two ways. Some are bitter battles damaging everyone involved. Others, however, serve to redefine and even strengthen the winner. In this case, that could mean Kulongoski positioned in the public mind, as he heads into the general election, as a (primary) winner and as the moderate in the race. Not a bad place to be.

But all of that is far ahead. Next question: Will Kitzhaber defy expectations (including ours) and jump in? If he does, the preceding logic undergoes an alteration.

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The headlines about the possibility of a Measure 37-style land use initiative heading north from Oregon to Washington have so far obscured another large shared interest: Paying for public employee retirement.

Oregon has had problems with its massive PERS funds for years, largely because of massively over-average benefits guaranteed from the beginning – a case study that should have served as a warning to any number of other states.

Now Washington is dealing with its own, as a spate of recent news stories have outlined.

As one Associated Press piece noted, “In recent years, lawmakers have financed pensions on the cheap, skipping payments and relying on Wall Street investments to keep the system relatively healthy. It was a painless, if imprudent, way to help balance state and local budgets during the post-Sept. 11 recession that hammered Washington state.”

The problem is not as extreme as Oregon’s has been, but it may prove equally tough to resolve.

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A good move that nakes for good symmetry: a red blog to match the blue one in Oregon.

Blue Oregon, which has been telling the liberal/Demcratic side for more than a year, has been a solid group blog, one of the best in the Northwest. It has cried out for a counterpart on the Republican right, and now it has one.

Oregon Catalyst bills itself as updating daily (weekdays, at least) and as “Oregon’s idea brain trust,” has got off to an active start, with entries on government budgeting, education, the Measure 37 ruling and other topics.

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Most of us tend to think of bus systems as highly urban creatures; if you live outside an urban area, the only bus you’re likely to see is a Greyhound (and fewer of those). Not many small communities have real bus systems; hardly any really rural areas do.

Warm Springs reservation mapNow it appears the Warm Springs Indian reservation in west-central Oregon, located many miles from the nearest city (Bend – which doesn’t have a bus system), may get one.

Their reason for moving this way may seem counterintuitive at first, but – it should be obvious – applies to a lot of rural areas around the country. From a news story on the development: “Tribal leaders have been working on the plan for the past two years, spurred by a transit study which found that more than 17 percent of unemployed reservation residents cited lack of transportation as the main reason they couldn’t find work. It was the second leading reason given for unemployment, after ‘unknown reasons’.”

So they’ll run it around from point to point: “From 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., riders could pay a small fee to schedule daily or weekly transportation door-to-door. For the rest of the day, the service would switch to a ‘checkpoint’ system.”

Question: Could it work in other rural areas, even absent a grant?

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Seattle is no doubt happy to bask in its latest ranking as the most literate major city in the country, out of 69 top centers. (Portland did well too, ranking at 11. Boise and Spokane were not among the cities ranked.) And it says something.

literacy studyThese kind of ratings are usually of limited value, and there’s no intent here to puff this one up beyond what it should be. But this study, “America’s Most Literate Cities,” by Central Connecticut State University President John Miller, does perform the useful service of pointing out some of the factors that lead to a literate community.

The basics are about what you might expect: “Previous editions of this study focused on five key indicators of literacy: newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, and educational attainment. The 2005 study introduces a new factor—the Internet—to gauge the expansion of literacy to online media.” But the interplay among these factors is what’s especially interesting.

Miller notes, for example, a number of sometimes odd connections and dislocations among these factors.

The presence of retail book stores is positively associated with quality of libraries. So, it is not a question of whether people buy books or check them out: they do both or neither.

Newspaper circulation variables correlate with nothing other than themselves. There is virtually no relationship between number of papers circulated per person and any of the other literacy factors including reading a newspaper on the internet.

The number of public library staff per capita, number of retail bookstores per capita, and magazines published per capita are significantly related to more other literary factors than any of the other variables.

There are strong relationships between three of the four internet literacy variables including wireless internet access, purchasing books on the internet, and reading newspapers on the internet, but availability of wireless terminals in public libraries is not related to any of these three variables.

Portlanders would have a hard time believing it, but Seattle ranks second (behind San Francisco) in number of book store per 100,000 people, while Portland shares a seventh-place ranking. (Doesn’t account for the massive traffic drawn by the Powell’s mother ship; in fairness, that alone should boost Portland a few notches.) Match that up against newspaper penetration, where Seattle ranks 16 and Portland 20.

Interesting study, worth some attention.

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