Proposals for a More Humane Oregon
Nearly every critical problem affecting our families and communities has been caused or made worse by the catastrophe in the White House. Oregon has always modeled a better way, and we must continue to do so, to rebuild hope and a promising future for all our people.
Take, for instance, our economy. Despite two recessions in the 2000s, Oregon’s economy has expanded by 75 percent over the past 20 years. Our growth lands us in the top 10 of all states, our worker productivity is high, and our “Gross State Product” jumped from $119 billion in 1997 to $208 billion in 2017. Oregon’s racehorse economy has outpaced the national growth rate and our importance to the U.S. economy has risen as well.
Nevertheless, too many of our people have not shared in this prosperity. Income inequality is at an all-time high, and it is visible everywhere. Thousands of our homeless pitch tents on our sidewalks and roadsides. Fifty-two percent of our school children are poor. Fully 22,000 of them are also homeless. And while the average income of the top one-tenth of one percent makes nearly $5 million a year, it would take the average Oregonian 130 years to earn that much. In fact, the top 1% took in more income than the entire bottom half of Oregon workers. Clearly, income inequality is one of Oregon’s greatest challenges. It impacts the ability of our children to succeed, of our families to thrive, and of our communities to prosper.
How did this happen? The reasons are several: racism, the decline of labor unions, burgeoning housing prices, and back-breaking student loan debt explain some of it, while preferential tax treatment for the wealthy and the disappearance of the middle class are also factors. Just as the causes are several, so are the remedies.
If the current COVID 19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that the system designed to help our most vulnerable people needs serious reform. We have also learned that to some extent, we are all vulnerable when our laws do not keep pace with our current realities. That’s why I will sponsor a comprehensive measure that incorporates some of the greatest lessons learned of what works and what needs improvement.
For families with children, unstable housing is a crisis that sets in motion a range of future impacts. When students must move from place to place, from school to school, learning continuity is threatened, and academic achievement is often unattainable. Permanent housing for families will pay dividends, giving our students a chance for success in school and in life.
Because affordable housing is one of the most serious challenges we face in Oregon, a broad array of governmental, non-profit, and private entities have been working to address the various issues impacting affordability, and I intend to join this community of activists, advocates, practitioners, and jurisdictions to advance policies designed to address this crisis in several significant ways.
Income inequality has been widening since at least the 1970s. It may be reversed only by restoring our disappearing middle class, which means reinvigorating Oregon’s organized labor community. Unions help to ensure shared prosperity for all, both for members and non-unionized workers alike. Recent actions to improve worker protections and increase the supply of good-paying jobs have been inspiring and must continue.
Health care is a right, not a privilege, guaranteed by the Constitutional promise of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Yet, too many of our people are just one health crisis away from bankruptcy. Whether it’s insurance coverage for all or quality health care access, our progress on this front has stalled out in recent years. This is thanks, in large measure, to the Trump Administration’s efforts to systematically undermine the Affordable Care Act. In fact, despite our past progress, today, 293,000 Oregonians are uninsured. The combined stresses of high cost of living and low pay are undermining too many people’s access to a healthy life.
Expand health care coverage to all Oregonians.
Oregon has been leading change on protection of abortion access. Expansion of school-based health clinics that provide reproductive health services, especially in regions of the state where low-income residents are service- and transportation-challenged, would be a good next step.
Enact safe storage and other common-sense gun-violence prevention laws to keep our children, families, and communities safer.
Most families in Oregon struggle to afford care for their kids. A minimum wage worker, typically a single mom, employed full time, earns only a fraction of the amount needed to survive modestly. Her wages simply do not cover housing and child care, let along other essentials. Oregon has been deemed a “child care desert” because of its lack of caregiving availability, let alone its affordability. In fact, Oregon is the third-least affordable state in the nation for licensed, center-based care. This threatens the healthy development and physical safety of thousands of Oregon children each year. With the advent of the Student Success Act, more resources will soon become available for preschool and other early-child services, but more needs to be done to ensure that these families not only survive but thrive.
President Trump calls global warming “a hoax”. Oregonians know that he’s wrong. Whether it’s melting polar ice caps, severe weather emergencies, crop failures, lost coastlines, fires, floods, or droughts, evidence of the impending catastrophe is everywhere. Environmental justice and green innovations can still change our course, however. Oregon cannot do this alone, but we can serve as a model for others, and we must.
We must stand up to climate polluters and take action to reduce dirty energy that dumps carbon, sulfur, mercury, and arsenic into our air and water, causing higher rates of asthma, heart disease, and cancers. Doing nothing puts us all at risk and betrays the health and safety of future generations.
The intersectionality of these issues undergirds all of the other issues Oregonians confront. Now is the time to interrupt bigotry, step up to be counted, rebalance the playing fields, and make sure our institutions reflect and look like the people they serve.
Solutions to the DEI challenge must be grounded in principles of equality for all, better supports for vulnerable people, and attention to the inter-relationship of gender, migrant, disability, elder, LGBTQ+, economic, and worker justice issues. By weaving the principles of DEI into solutions to a wide range of problems impacting our communities, we can embed our values in a way that has greater reach and less isolation.