Poverty and the Oregon Workforce

by Jessica Nelson

February 21, 2019

Oregon’s poverty rate edged down in 2017 after a drop of more than 2 percentage points in 2016. In 2017, the share of the population below poverty level was 13.2 percent. Poverty rates in Oregon have tracked pretty smoothly with the national trend over the past decade.

The recent peak in poverty rates lagged behind the employment loss and financial trouble of the Great Recession that lasted from late 2007 to mid-2009, with Oregon poverty rates hitting a high of more than 17 percent in 2011 and 2012. Nationally, the poverty rate topped out below 16 percent in the post-recession period. Since 2012, poverty rates have slowly dipped back down. By 2017, Oregon and the nation were back to poverty rates of about 13 percent – lows last seen in 2007.

Among the states and Washington, D.C., Oregon’s 2017 poverty rate ranked right in the middle at 28th lowest. Poverty rates in 2017 ranged from 7.7 percent in New Hampshire to 19.8 percent in Mississippi. Back in 2006, Oregon’s poverty rate ranked 30th among the states and Washington, D.C. In the midst of the Great Recession in 2011, Oregon’s poverty rate ranked 36th lowest. With that history, Oregon’s recent improvement in poverty rate places us in a more favorable position in national comparisons.
Poverty among the Civilian Labor Force

Narrowing the population to just the civilian labor force – which is composed of people over the age of 16 and either employed or actively looking for work – the poverty rate is lower. Among Oregonians in the labor force, the poverty rate was 8.1 percent in 2017. When Oregon’s overall poverty rate peaked at 17.5 percent in 2011, the poverty rate among the civilian labor force was 12.4 percent. In 2017, the lowest rate of poverty among the labor force was in New Hampshire, at 4.3 percent, while the highest rate was in Louisiana, at 11.0 percent of the civilian labor force.

Digging into more details of Oregon’s labor force, poverty is lower among the employed portion of the labor force, at 6.8 percent. Poverty is much higher among the unemployed – Oregon’s unemployed had a poverty rate of 32.3 percent. For those Oregon workers who had worked a full-time, year-round schedule in the prior 12 months, the poverty rate plummeted to just 2.5 percent. Those who worked part-time or part of the year in the prior 12 months had a poverty rate of 16.8 percent.

Poverty and Age

Many of the people in the United States who fall below the official poverty threshold are children or elderly. This is why economic conditions and the availability of jobs don’t change poverty rates very drastically or quickly – many of the people in poverty aren’t willing or able to take a job, so job availability doesn’t change their likelihood of being below the poverty line.

In 2017, just about one-third of the people below the poverty line in the U.S. were under the age of 18. In Oregon, a smaller share of those in poverty were children, at 26 percent. There were 41,500 Oregon children under the age of five in poverty in 2017; they made up 8 percent of people below the poverty line. Another 99,600 Oregon children ages five to 17 were in poverty, accounting for 19 percent of the total below the poverty line.

People age 65 and over make up one out of 10 people in poverty. In Oregon in 2017, 60,900 people age 65 and over had income below the poverty line. However, the population age 65 and over is large enough that the elder population actually has the lowest poverty rate. Oregonians age 65 and over make up 17 percent of the state’s population, but just 11 percent of those in poverty.
Oregon poverty rates by age group flow smoothly from the highest rates for the youngest age groups, to the lowest rates for the oldest age group. Oregon’s poverty rates for children are below the national average. Poverty rates among young adults ages 18 to 34 are higher in Oregon than nationally. The poverty rate for adults ages 35 to 64 is slightly higher in Oregon than for the U.S.


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