Why this matters to Oregonians

This year’s Economic Check-Up is a mixed bag. The good news is that Portland-metro’s job and Gross Metropolitan Product growth are strong. Our traded-sector industries continue to innovate and compete in the global marketplace giving this region an advantage. This bodes well for the region, and yet, disturbing trends related to incomes and affordability continue.

Income stagnation and a decline of middle-income jobs is a trend that is seen in regions throughout the U.S. What this report shows, however, is that Portland-metro has some unique issues that impact the ability of families to prosper and enjoy the quality of life the region has to offer.

Does Portland-metro provide the kinds of jobs needed for families and individuals to get ahead? New data in this year’s Economic Check-Up shows people are working, but a disproportionate number are in part-time jobs that are less likely to offer good wages and benefits needed to own a home, provide for children, stay healthy and save for retirement. Focusing not just on job growth, but ensuring good jobs for individuals across all education levels must be a priority. Another area that requires significant focus of regional leaders is affordability. Couple income stagnation with rapidly rising housing prices and increases in the cost of living and we have some fundamentally profound changes emerging in the Portland-metro area around who can afford to live here.

Recent discussions of “affordability” have high-centered around minimum wage. It is almost certain that Oregon’s minimum wage policy will be re-examined, but settling for “minimum” at any level is not enough to ensure family prosperity. Instead, the focus must be on growing and maintaining quality middleincome jobs or better that enable families not just to survive but to prosper.

Quality jobs and affordibility are the opportunity and the challenge for residents and families in the region, as well as for leaders and decision makers. It is critical we work together to address these issues. We must start now by evaluating each decision through the lens of good jobs, growing incomes and increasing affordability. If we wait, it will be too late to reverse the trend.