June 9, 2014 — Multnomah County’s Slavic community suffers disproportionately high levels of unemployment and poverty, and lower levels of education and health care than the general population according to a new Portland State University (PSU) research report.
Moreover, the report states they miss out on receiving needed government investments because censuses define them as “white,” statistically undistinguishable from the mainstream white population that is typically English-speaking and American-born, the report states.
The 87-page report titled “The Slavic Community in Multnomah County: An Unsettling Profile” is the result of a six-year research partnership between PSU’s School of Social Work and the Coalition of Communities of Color, whose membership includes more than 20 culturally-specific organizations in Multnomah County. The report is the last in a series. Previous works profiled Latinos, Native Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, African Americans, and African Immigrants in Multnomah County.
Slavic leaders and members of the Coalition of Communities of Color will present the findings of the report to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners at 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 10 at the board’s office on 501 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd. in Portland. They will use the findings to advocate for policy changes that affect the Slavic community. Copies of the report will be available following the board presentation, and at www.coalitioncommunitiescolor.org. It is also available now through the School of Social Work at www.facebook.com/psussw.
Unlike ethnic groups previously profiled by the Coalition, the Slavic community – defined as immigrants and refugees from the former Soviet Union – remains largely invisible in the eyes of government agencies and social service providers because they’re identified only as “white” on census forms, despite unique language and cultural characteristics that set them apart from the population at large.
“This is a community that is conventionally portrayed as white, yet it is unable to benefit from this attribution,” said Ann Curry-Stevens, author of the report and the project’s lead investigator. “It is a community that is deeply thwarted in gaining a foothold both economically and socially,” she said.
The most recent wave of Slavic immigration to Oregon began at the end of the 1980s as the Soviet Union began to crumble. An estimated 12,068 Slavs lived in Multnomah County in 2000. That number rose by nearly 84 percent to 22,189 over the next decade. Slavs are the second largest immigrant group after Latinos, and Russian has become the third most spoken language in Oregon after English and Spanish, the report states.
Members of the community were deeply hit by the recent recession. Proportionately, more of them lost their homes than did the general white population, and their rates of unemployment and child poverty doubled, the report states.
Curry-Stevens said this community suffers from invisibility and under-participation in most demographic studies. This will hopefully shift as Oregon improves its collection of racial identifying data. The Oregon Legislature passed a bill in 2013 requiring the Oregon Health Authority and Department of Human Services to improve the way they collect data about people in different ethnic groups, designating “Slavic” as a category on data forms.
Oleg Kubrakov, Coalition member and Coordinator of the Slavic Leadership Development Program, said he hopes the report will help the County understand the size of the local Slavic community. “We are invisible because of County data practices. Changing this will ensure that disparities we face in hiring and services will be addressed,” he said.