Any Olympic athlete knows that one setback can sabotage their chances at winning gold. After all, no amount of skill or training can get a runner caught up after they’ve taken a fall. By no fault of their own, Oregon’s families have been playing catch-up to cover rising costs, and the finish line isn’t getting any easier to reach.
The Status of Oregon’s Families and Children: 2016 County Data Book released by Children First for Oregon finds that many households in our state haven’t caught up since 2008. Despite a recent boost, the typical Oregon family earned less in 2015 than in 2008 while common family expenses have continued to rise. Oregonians, and Oregon children in particular, were more likely to be poor in 2015 than they were in 2008.
From 2008 to 2015, Oregon’s median family income fell 6.9 percent. Over the same time period, the median rent in Oregon increased 7.7 percent, the cost of child care jumped 17.5 percent, and the average cost of in-state tuition at Oregon’s public universities increased 31 percent, all after adjusting for inflation. When common family expenses outpace family incomes, the buck gets passed to children.
The report highlights alarming poverty rates. Children were more likely to be poor in 2015 than they were in 2008. Although down from a peak in 2011, about one out of every five Oregon children were poor in 2015. Poverty rates were higher in Oregon’s rural counties and within many communities of color. In Malheur County, for example, nearly 40 percent of the children were in poverty. Across the state, about a third of all Latino and Native American children, and nearly half of all Black and Pacific Islander children, lived in poverty. This data shows that we need to address the root causes of poverty and racial injustice so that all families in Oregon can cover basic expenses, save for the future, and build assets.
Poverty, in particular during early childhood, can have a lasting impact on child well-being. Research has shown that experiencing poverty as a child, especially prolonged poverty, hinders a child’s cognitive development. And since a child’s development in her first few years of life lays the groundwork for future health and development, experiencing poverty is a significant setback for children that continues to have a negative impact well into adulthood.
Prioritizing policies, programs, and investments in making housing, child care, and education more affordable can help boost financial security for families, providing much-needed reprieve for families stuck in a cycle of playing catch-up. For example, Oregon has made progress when it comes to ensuring that more Oregonians have health insurance. Since 2009, Oregon, along with the federal government, expanded access to public health insurance. As a result, fewer Oregon adults and children lacked health insurance in 2015. Public safety net programs make a difference, and have been shown to reduce the rate of child poverty by nearly two-thirds.
Our children and families shouldn’t be relegated to a lifetime of playing catch-up. Real change is needed to help them across the finish line and have a fair shot at financial victory. Sign up for United for Kids today and help make meaningful change for children and families in Oregon.