Previously in our Poverty and Progress series our office examined Oregon overall, the Portland metro area and Josephine County. As mentioned at the time, the Census Bureau recommends using the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) for local level figures. The 2015 data was just released a couple of weeks ago. The graph below compares regional poverty rates across Oregon with the state and national figures overall for the past two decades. These results largely follow our previous analysis which primarily used the ACS data, and of course you would expect them to be broadly similar. However the trellis graph gives a clear and easy way to compare trends across regions.
As we have pointed out, much of the improvement in recent years has come in the Portland MSA and then the broader Willamette Valley. These areas saw economic growth return first and have seen relatively strong gains since. Such growth leads to a tightening labor market with strong wage gains, which in turn drives household incomes higher and lowers the poverty rate. As these labor market improvements continue into other regions of the state, household income gains and poverty rate declines are likely to follow. We’re just not there yet, for the most part. This relative pattern is at least in part due to the timing of local and regional business cycles. Provided the overall economic expansion continues, improvements throughout the state can be expected in the coming years.
Even as economic improvements are a big part of the short-term story and for the working-age population, those clearly are not the only trends impacting measures like the poverty rate. Greg Tooman, regional caseload forecaster for DHS/OHA has some great insights into what impacts and drives local level trends. I have copied a comment of his below. Thanks Greg! For more on the DHS/OHA forecasts see the latest statewide forecast here, and the regional outlook here.
As the regional forecaster for the Dept. of Human Services, I’ve come to understand that the relationship between poverty and jobs is weaker than most people think. It’s undoubtedly true that the employment picture is better in Josephine Co., but in most cases employment isn’t enough to move people out of poverty unless it’s full-time. Although Grants Pass has been recently reclassified as an MSA, the area has a lot of the features we see in a rural county – a high population over 65, unemployment historically higher than statewide, etc. You’ve talked about the rural/urban split here before. The pattern in Grants Pass/Josephine looks typically rural. And in rural counties, slow reductions in our means-tested caseloads are common. We expect SNAP to fall by about 18% statewide between now and the end fiscal 2019; we expect it to fall only 11% in Josephine Co. Similar story with TANF. Wages may be more the key here than employment itself, since that would signal the growth of full time employment necessary to pull people out of poverty and off of our services.