Southwestern Oregon Poverty Rates Improved in Recent Years

by Annette Shelton-Tiderman

January 8, 2018

Recently released estimates of poverty rates from the Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates Program (SAIPE) show continuing improvement in the percent of the Southwestern Oregon population living in poverty. From 2015 to 2016, the all-age poverty rate declined from 18.7 percent to 17.5 percent in Coos County; 17.2 percent to 14.1 percent in Curry County; and 19.5 percent to 15.6 percent in Douglas County. During this same period, the state’s poverty rate declined from 15.2 percent to 13.4 percent.
Current rates are notably lower than the peak rates, which were reported a short time after the recession officially ended. In 2011, a peak rate of 17.3 percent of Oregonians were living in poverty. In 2012, a peak rate of 20.6 percent of Coos County residents were in poverty and 21.3 percent of Douglas County residents were living in poverty. In 2013, a peak rate of 18.7 percent of Curry County residents were in poverty.

Percentages aside, looking at the number of people living in poverty provides added perspective. At Coos County’s peak rate (2012), there were 12,700 people living in poverty. By 2016, this had decreased to 10,946. However, in 1998 when the county’s poverty rate was 17.5 percent, there were 10,835 people living in poverty – statistically, within the same range as the most recent survey findings. Curry and Douglas counties show the same general trends. In 2016, Curry County had 3,171 people living in poverty, down from the 2013 peak rate when 4,148 lived in poverty. Yet, in 2007 when the rate was at the 2016 rate (14.1%), the number of people living in poverty was 3,044 – statistically within the same range as the most recent data. Douglas County reported 16,692 living in poverty in 2016; 22,537 in 2012; and 15,598 in 1998. The rates and the number of people living in poverty during these years are statistically within the same range. This suggests that although it appears the numbers have substantially improved, the margins of error associated with the estimating processes indicate the shifts may not be as great as they appear to be.
Youth Poverty Rates

The Census Bureau also provides poverty rate estimates for youth, for those ages 18 and under and the typical school-age population for those ages five to 17. Focusing on the 18 and younger age group, the rates are higher than the overall population. However, youth poverty rates also show a noticeable drop in recent years. Also, as found with the all-age poverty values, for most years, the estimated count of those in poverty isn’t changing much over time.
Coos County’s youth poverty rate declined from 29.8 percent in 2015 to 25.5 percent; the number of individuals dropped from 3,377 to 2,924. The peak rate occurred in 2012 (30.6%) when an estimated 3,460 youth were living in poverty. Curry County’s youth poverty rate shows a decline in recent years, 27.0 percent (969 individuals) in 2015 to 22.9 percent (807) in 2016. At the peak, there were 969 youth in poverty (2013) – a rate of 28.0 percent. In 1998, when Curry County’s rate was 24.8 percent, there were 994 youth estimated to be living in poverty. Douglas County’s youth poverty rate peaked in 2012 (32.8%) when an estimated 6,773 youth were in poverty. Today’s rate of 23.2 percent (4,734 youth) is nearly the same as in 1998 when it was 22.9 percent; at that time 4,772 youth were estimated to be living in poverty.

Unemployment Rates Peak Ahead of Poverty Rates

Although there have been several recessions in the last 20 years, the Great Recession, which officially began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, affected nearly every industry and was felt across the nation and throughout our area. Oregon’s southwestern counties, like many rural areas, entered the economic downturn as early as 2006 and experienced delays in their recoveries.
Oregon’s unemployment rate peaked in 2009 with an annual average of 11.3 percent. Coos County’s rate peaked in 2009 at 13 percent; Curry County’s peaked in 2009 at 13.2 percent; and Douglas County’s peaked in 2009 at 15.7 percent. As expected, as unemployment increased so did poverty rates. However, poverty rates in Coos, Curry, and Douglas counties’ peaked between two and three years after peak unemployment rates. Although there may be a number of reasons behind this lag, it seems likely that the kinds of jobs initially added post-recession were predominately lower wage and potentially not sufficient to pull these wage earners out of poverty.

For more information and data for other areas see: https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/saipe.html.


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