Posted by: Josh Lehner | September 17, 2020

Oregon Poverty and Progress, 2019 Edition

This morning the Census Bureau released the 2019 American Community Survey data. Normally this is the Super Bowl of socioeconomic data, and researchers mine it for months to better understand where we stand. But pardon my lack of enthusiasm this morning given *gestures broadly at everything.* Census data is always backward looking but is very important to keep track of. That said it feels even more so this week given the pandemic, recession, and wildfires. And it’s a shame really because, as expected, the 2019 data looks fantastic. We knew the economy has doing quite well right up until the pandemic hit, and this fact actually makes economists more optimistic on the recovery given there were no large macroeconomic imbalances. With that, the charts below highlight some of the major data points in the 2019 ACS data. We will post more in the future as we dig further into the data.

First, median household incomes in Oregon and the nation hit new all-time highs last year. The decade-long economic expansion was really bearing fruit in recent years as the economy strengthened and wages began to rise significantly. Oregon’s median income now stands 2 percent higher than the U.S. This is a touch lower than in 2018 as incomes rose slightly slower in Oregon in 2019 than they did nationwide, 5.7 vs 6.1 percent. That said, outside of the past two years you have to go back to the 1960 Census to find median incomes in Oregon that were higher than in the nation.

The underlying driver of income growth last year was earnings (wages). Yes, the number of workers increased, boosting incomes somewhat. However earnings per worker, especially for full-time workers, really drove the gains. Given that middle- and lower-income households really only have wages as their source of income, these wage gains in recent years are driving incomes higher for Oregonians. While higher-income households have fared better in recent years (decades), incomes across the board in Oregon are now higher than they were prior to the Great Recession, even after adjusting for inflation.

And these income gains drive poverty figures lower. Oregon’s 11.4 percent poverty rate in 2019 is almost a full percentage point lower than the nation’s 12.3 percent. This gap between Oregon and the U.S. is on par with what the state saw in the 1990 and 2000 Census data. You have to go back even further, to the heyday of the timber industry in the 1960s and 1970s to find a time when Oregon’s poverty rate was proportionately lower than the U.S. than it is today.

The good news here is that these income gains and poverty declines are seen among Oregonians of all races and ethnicities. The racial poverty gap remains. There is more work to be done to address inequities. But the good news is the racial poverty gap is now the smallest on record in Oregon, and poverty rates for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color have never been lower*, based on available data. But this also means that BIPOC Oregonians now face poverty rates on par with what white Oregonians experienced during the worst of the Great Recession. Like I said, a lot more work to be done.

Note: We will have more in our forecast document next week on how COVID-19 may or may not be changing some of these trends.

All told, Oregon experienced a strong economic expansion last decade, among the best nationwide. Importantly the economic growth translated into money in the pockets of everyday Oregonians. Our incomes had never been higher, and our poverty rates hadn’t been this low in decades. But we are now on to the next cycle where we are currently recovering from a global pandemic. Expectations are that this recovery will not take as long as the last one, in part because of that underlying strength in the economy we experienced up until a few months ago. This new 2019 data quantifies just how strong the economy was.

* Note that poverty rates for Black Oregonians increased in 2019, following a large decline in 2018. Overall, given Oregon’s small Black population, the data is noisy from year-to-year and the margin of error is relatively large. In the big picture, poverty rates for Black Oregonians have improved but remain higher than for any other race or ethnicity.


  1. Love positive news!!!

  2. […] Source: Oregon Poverty and Progress, 2019 Edition | Oregon Office of Economic Analysis […]

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