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Gloomy Days, but a Ray of Hope, for Working Oregonians

September 3, 2010

Labor Day is an appropriate moment to reflect on the state of Oregon workers. This year's holiday takes place as the nation continues to struggle with the effects of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Not surprisingly, for most Oregon workers the state of affairs is a tough one. In particular:The wages of a typical Oregon worker last year were lower than in 1979 when adjusted for inflation. The average hourly wage for median wage workers was $15.85 in 2009, down from $16.09 in 2001 and lower than the 1979 level of $16.12.Income inequality -- the gap separating the wealthy from the rest -- remains wide, despite drops in income across the wage scale. The average annual income of the wealthiest 1 percent of Oregon households dropped in 2008, falling 29 percent from the 2007 peak of a little over $1 million. Average income for the typical (median) Oregon household fell 3 percent, from $32,336 in 2007 to $31,243 in 2008.Jobs are expected to remain scarce over the next few years, making it hard for workers to demand better wages. In 2010, Oregon is projected to have 65 jobs available for every 100 working-age Oregonians. That is well below the level of jobs available in 2000, at the peak of the economic cycle of the 1990s. Oregon will not regain the level of jobs per worker seen in 2003 -- the worst year of the 2001-03 recession -- until 2015.Corporations have also felt the effects of the downturn, although they were cushioned by rapid jumps in profits and income prior to the recession. OCPP estimates that corporate profits in Oregon were about $15 billion in 2009, essentially the same level as in 2008. But amid this gloomy scenario, there is one ray of hope for Oregon workers: unionization appears to be holding up better in Oregon than in the nation as a whole. Last year, 17 percent of Oregon's workforce belonged to a union, the third year in a row that the state has seen an uptick in unionization rates. Recent data demonstrate that unions have played a key role in raising wages and benefits, particularly for low-income workers. And research shows that all workers, not just union members, benefit from the union gains. As Oregon workers confront the toughest economic challenges in over 70 years, they should welcome a stronger union voice.

SB 461 Helps Low-income Workers Gain Job Skills, Strengthens Oregon's Workforce

February 18, 2009

SB 461 would help low-wage workers upgrade their skills so they can get a higher-paying or more stable job. It lifts restrictions on very low-wage workers who are trying to enter or complete a job training program while they collect unemployment benefits.

SB 462 Helps Low-Income Workers Qualify for Unemployment Benefits, Oregon Qualify for Federal Funds

February 18, 2009

Some workers losing their jobs during this recession are not receiving unemployment benefits, even though their employers paid unemployment taxes for them. This is because the state uses outmoded eligibility rules that ignore recent months of work. SB 462 would fix this problem.

SB 463 Ends Rule Barring Many Part-time Workers From Collecting Unemployment Benefits

February 18, 2009

SB 463 would acknowledge the important role that part-time workers play in today's workforce by eliminating the outmoded rule that unemployed workers with a history of part-time work can collect benefits only if they search for full-time employment.

How Much Does Oregon Stand to Gain From the House Economic Stimulus Package?

February 3, 2009

With unemployment at 9 percent and rising, Oregon could use an economic boost. Congress is working on legislation, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), to stimulate the nation's economy. What could the package mean for Oregon?

Rolling Up Our Sleeves: Building an Oregon that Works for Working Families

December 15, 2008

Working families in Oregon, as in the rest of the nation, faced a tough economic environment even before the onset of the current recession. Prior to the downturn, Oregon experienced a seven-year stretch in which its economy and productivity grew faster than that of the nation as a whole. And yet Oregon working families emerged from that seemingly favorable period with stagnant or shrunken wages and less health care coverage. The percentage of families stuck in poverty despite their work effort remained unchanged. How did it come to pass that the economy grew but most working families gained nothing or fell behind? The answer is simply that the rules of the economy have not been guided by a goal of shared prosperity and opportunity for all. The economic benefits mostly flowed upward, swelling the incomes of those at the very top. Toward the end of the economic expansion, income inequality had reached record levels. Now, with a recession battering the state and the nation, the economic condition of working families has become more precarious. History shows, however, that in tough economic times we can summon the will to accomplish great things. Seven decades ago, a generation of Americans rose up from the depths of the Great Depression and together built a strong nation and economy. This achievement rested on a foundation of broadly shared prosperity and opportunity for all. The benefits of economic growth flowed to typical working families. It is time for Oregonians to learn from history and build a new foundation. Action now can help alleviate some of the pain of the current downturn. But more importantly, our work today will help usher in a new era of broadly shared prosperity and opportunity. In this report, we outline strategies for building an Oregon that works for working families. The specific recommendations fall under three broad categories: policies that strengthen the public sector's role in promoting shared prosperity, policies that secure the incomes of working families and reforms to the tax system that make it fairer for working families and generate revenue for public systems that create opportunity. This report is not a comprehensive plan for achieving an economy of shared prosperity, but it presents a broad policy framework and a range of specific proposals that point the way forward. So let's roll up our sleeves and begin building an Oregon that works for working families.

No Contest: Why expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit is better for working families and Oregon than the Tax Bracket Increase

August 26, 2008

Next year (2009), the Oregon Legislative Assembly may face two different income tax measures purporting to help working families.One plan, proposed by Republicans in the legislature, would double the size of Oregon's two lowest income tax brackets, doubling the share of income that is taxed at 5 and 7 percent (hereinafter, the "Tax Bracket Increase"). The other plan, proposed by Oregonians for Working Families, would expand Oregon's Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to 18 percent of the federal EITC. Which proposal is better? Read our latest issue brief No Contest: Why expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit is better for working families and Oregon than the Tax Bracket Increase or here in PDF.

No Gain, Just Pain: Most Oregonians would not benefit from Measure 59, but they would lose public services

August 18, 2008

Imagine being offered the following deal: in exchange for more overcrowded classrooms, more Oregonians without health coverage and higher college tuition, you get . . . nothing. That is not a hypothetical scenario for most Oregonians. It is the raw deal contained in Measure 59 on the November 2008 ballot. Measure 59, which would allow an unlimited deduction of federal income taxes on state tax returns, offers no tax break to more than three out of four Oregon taxpayers. And yet the measure's hefty price tag -- more than $1 billion, or more than about 9 percent of General Fund revenues, each budget cycle -- would force deep cuts in Oregon's public structures. Voters rejected a similar scheme in 2000. Like its earlier version, this year's reincarnation of the unlimited federal tax deduction portends no gain, just pain for most Oregonians. Read OCPP's latest report No Gain, Just Pain: Most Oregonians would not benefit from Measure 59, but they would lose public services. Read OCPP's news release Costly Ballot Measure 59 Tilts Benefits to Wealthy, Leaving "No Gain, Just Pain" for Most Oregonians.

Expanding the EIC in 2009: Increasing the state Earned Income Credit would add fairness and help low-wage working families and communities across Oregon

March 26, 2008

This tax season, Oregon will require a minimum wage worker who was employed full-time, year-round last year and supported one child to pay about $321 in state income taxes. That's equivalent to about a month of food for this hard-working but financially insecure family. Oregon's Earned Income Credit, enacted in 1997, has certainly helped Oregon's most vulnerable families. Because the credit is so small, though (it's one of the nation's smallest among states with such credits) Oregon income taxes are still taking a month's worth of food off the table of vulnerable families. By expanding the Earned Income Credit (EIC), Oregon can give a hand up to low-wage working families, rather than leaving them behind. Read OCPP's fact sheet, Expanding the EIC in 2009, which includes tables and maps showing EIC returns as a share of all returns by state legislative district.

Where Will the Pain Be? OCPP's subprime maps can help legislators target education about foreclosure scams addressed by HB 3630

February 19, 2008

The U.S. home loan market is failing in spectacular fashion. A housing bubble created partly by lax consumer protection laws has burst, sending delinquencies and foreclosures soaring and hobbling the national economy. While Oregon has so far avoided the worst of the crisis, recent trends are worrisome. Home prices have turned negative in a rising share of neighborhoods and delinquencies are surging. Oregon's housing troubles may only get worse.Driving the housing market's collapse are subprime loans, high-cost loans often issued to borrowers with impaired or no credit history. As of the third quarter of 2007, payment was past due on more than one in ten subprime loans in Oregon, and the delinquency rate on these loans was rising.Policymakers and elected leaders can best ameliorate the impact of rising subprime delinquencies if they know where subprime loans are concentrated. For instance, the Oregon Legislative Assembly is debating HB 3630, which would establish new consumer protections for borrowers facing foreclosure. If the bill becomes law, legislators and the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services could target public education efforts about the new law in neighborhoods at higher risk for foreclosures.But where are the potential trouble spots? OCPP has developed maps showing the concentration of subprime loans by census tract for each state legislative district (see appendix).Among legislative districts with the highest share of subprime mortgage originations in 2006 were those of legislative leaders: Senate President Peter Courtney (36.9 percent), Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli (31.4 percent), and House Speaker Jeff Merkley (35.7 percent). Even in the district with the lowest share of subprime loans, Representative Sara Gelser's House District 16, one in eight residents who took out a home loan in 2006 (13.0 percent) received a subprime loan.Of course, factors besides subprime loans impact the foreclosure rate. These include declining home prices, a weak local economy, or a high concentration of risky mortgage products besides subprime loans. But with subprime loan delinquencies already high and rising, census tracts in which these loans are concentrated should concern policymakers and those seeking to ameliorate the problem through public education and other means.

It Better Only Drizzle, Why the newly created Oregon Rainy Day Fund is inadequate protection against the next economic downturn and how the problem can be fixed

October 1, 2007

Despite the creation of the Oregon Rainy Day Fund by the Legislature earlier this year, Oregon's public structures remain exposed to serious disruption in the next, inevitable economic downturn. This report examines the severe shortcomings of Oregon's two reserve accounts, the Rainy Day Fund and the Education Stability Fund, finding that: As of October 2007, state reserves available to the Legislature in the new Rainy Day Fund and the Education Stability Fund, combined, total only $237 million -- the equivalent of just 1.8 percent of General Fund revenue in the current budget cycle. To weather a recession of the same magnitude as the one that struck in 2001, the state would need nearly $2 billion, or about 15 percent of General Fund revenue in the current budget cycle. A design flaw prevents the Legislature from accessing the Oregon Rainy Day Fund until July 2009, and it severely limits access to future earnings and investments in the fund. The Education Stability Fund was drained nearly empty in 2005 and has barely recovered. Its effectiveness, moreover, is hampered because some of its funds are tied up in venture capital investments and because investment earnings are not retained in the fund. Oregon has failed to fund its two reserve accounts adequately. At the present rate of funding for both the Rainy Day Fund and the Education Stability Fund, total available reserves will grow to just 6.8 percent of General Fund revenue by the end of the 2013-15 budget cycle. By comparison, the 2001 recession caused General Fund revenue to decline by 15.2 percent. How to save Oregon's future rainy days Oregon would be in much better shape to weather a recession if the Legislature were to fix the flaws that restrict the availability and growth potential of the two reserve accounts and to fund them more adequately. The Legislature should refer to voters measures that would transfer future unanticipated personal and corporate income tax revenue into the Rainy Day Fund until the fund reaches its funding cap. The Legislature should increase the cap to allow the fund to grow large enough to protect Oregon from a 2001-like recession.

An Economy for the Few: Oregon workers are more productive, but households with incomes over $360,000 are getting most of the income gains

August 1, 2007

This Labor Day Oregon's workers are producing goods and services more efficiently than when the economic expansion began four years ago, but few workers have seen much income benefit as a result. See link for more details.