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Oregon Business: Editor's Notes: Closing the poverty gap
Author: By Robin Doussard
Posted: May 10, 2010

The recession destroyed more than 8 million jobs. And while a federal report issued last week showed that the nation gained back 290,000 of those jobs in April, it will be a long time before the economy will be able to soak up the millions who are unemployed.

Those new jobs did nothing to dent the unemployment rate, which actually rose to 9.9 percent nationally as of last week's figures (fueled by previously discouraged workers looking for jobs again, thus being counted again). Oregon's current rate of 10.6 percent is sure to go up in concert when it is calculated and released next week.

Those figures are bad enough, but if you are a person of color, they're even worse. A 152-page report issued late last week takes a deep dive into the social and economic trends in Multnomah County's minority communities, and it isn't good news. The report, the first of seven to be issued by the Communities of Color Coalition in partnership with Portland State University, bluntly summarizes the state of those communities in the county: "We are a uniquely toxic place for people of color."

Minorities make up about 26 percent of the county's population, growing from about 15 percent in 1990. The report examines many issues: education, poverty, health care, crime, income levels, early childhood, and civic engagement. But I always go looking for the jobs and employment information in any research because having a job is a root solution to so many problems.

For minorities in Multnomah County, the report finds the economic picture fairly bleak. It states that the unemployment rates nationally for minority communities was 13.7 percent as of May 2009, the latest figures available (none are available at the local level). That calculates to minorities being 76% worse off than the white population - and the figures do not even capture the economic devastation of the past two years.

The other economic indicators are just as stark. The report found that:

Communities of color earn half the incomes of whites, about $16,636 per year, compared to the $33,095 annually whites earn.
Minorities are in management and professional positions at half the levels of whites.
Minorities have unemployment rates that are 35.7% higher than whites.
Systems designed to improve the challenges facing communities of color, such as the protected government contracting practices, fail to deliver the expected benefits. Less than one-tenth of 1% of the City of Portland's contracting dollars goes to minority-owned businesses.
Minorities own only 7% of Oregon businesses.
Additionally, minorities in Multnomah County are 15% to 20% worse off in key indicators than minorities nationally, thus the report's assessment that the county is a particularly "toxic" place to live for them.

According to the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, more than one out of 20 people in the U.S. in 2008 were living in deep poverty, the share of Americans whose cash incomes fall below half of the poverty line. That's about 17.1 million Americans, or 5.7% of the population.
The center states that racial and ethnic minorities, women, children, and families headed by single women are particularly vulnerable to poverty and deep poverty, and that blacks and Hispanics are more likely that whites to be poor.
This is economic inequality on a vast scale, and the consequences for everyone - not just those drowning at the bottom - are also vast. As the next six reports are released, I hope they galvanize the whole community to find solutions to the long entrenched and complex problem of poverty. Without economic justice, social justice doesn't stand a chance.