A new report by a coalition of minority groups labels Multnomah County a "uniquely toxic place" for people of color, where minorities consistently lag behind whites on nearly every indicator, from poverty rates to jobs.
Conditions in the county are worse than in other parts of the country and continuing to slide, said Ann Curry-Stevens, the lead researcher and an assistant professor of the graduate school of social work at Portland State University.
"I suspected that the general experience between rich and the poor, and the growing inequalities were likely to be more deeply felt by communities of color, but the common rhetoric is how wonderful and progressive Portland is," she said in an interview Thursday. "By no stretch did I imagine the breadth of disparity."
The document, nearly two years in the making, was commissioned by the Communities of Color Coalition, formed in 2001. Minorities make up more than 26 percent of the population in Portland and the county, according to Census Bureau's 2008 American Community Survey, although the coalition thinks that's an undercount. About 45 percent of students at Portland Public Schools are minorities.
The 152-page report is the first of seven research documents to come. The others will drill into characteristics of specific communities, including immigrant African and Slavic people.
Flanked by prominent leaders of minority groups, Curry-Stevens presented a slide-show version to the Portland City Council on Thursday.
Among the findings:
About 7 percent of whites drop out of high school, compared with 30 percent of minorities.
Some 62 percent of whites own homes, while only 45 percent of minorities do. A larger percentage of minorities spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
One in three children of color live in poverty, compared with 12.5 percent for whites. The child-poverty rate for Native Americans is 46 percent, for African Americans 41 percent and for African immigrants 56 percent.
People of color earn about half that of white individuals: $16,636 a year compared with $33,095. Individual income for Latinos is about one-third that of whites.
Minorities in Multnomah County fare worse on measures such as child poverty, rent burden, incomes and education than minorities in King County, Wash., (home to Seattle) which has a slightly higher number of minorities.
For the first time, data are available on Slavic and African immigrants and refugees in the county. Education levels are high in both groups, but both struggle with poverty.
While Asian Americans tend to perform the same as whites in education and occupation nationally, that's not the case in Multnomah County.
Coalition members pleaded with city commissioners to take up the issue, starting with an accurate count and setting aside money for culturally specific solutions. That could be difficult since Mayor Sam Adams is scheduled to release today a proposed one-year budget heavy with cuts.
Commissioners promised to follow up and work with members to come up with a concrete plan in the next two months.
"It's shocking to see not only the disparities in all categories, but that disparities have grown," Commissioner Amanda Fritz said. "That is not acceptable. That is not the Portland we want to be."
Adams thanked the group for providing a "sad, shameful and very compelling reality" of the city.
The city of Portland contributed $50,000 and Multnomah County kicked in $100,000 in fiscal year 2009 to help pay for the research. The Communities of Color Coalition -- which includes the Native American Youth Family Center, Urban League, Asian Family Center and Latino Network -- and Portland State University and the Northwest Health Foundation provided money, too.
Nichole Maher, executive director of the Native American Youth Association, said in the past, government leaders have spent more time challenging the statistics than working to resolve the disparities.
This time, she wants them to get to work.
"All tell the same story," she said, "that people of color are having different experiences than white folks in the community."