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.
Oregon has already begun to fight the good fight with recent legislation to protect tenants from no-cause evictions and untenable rent hikes. But with half of all Oregon renter households spending more than 30% of their income on rent each month, we must do more. A Portland-area low-wage worker would need to work
81 hours a week to afford a roof over his head, and in 31 of Oregon’s 36 counties, minimum wage workers simply cannot afford even a one-bedroom apartment. In fact, according the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, there is not a single U.S. state in which such a worker, employed full time, can afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rates. Not a single one!
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.
The federal Section 8 program, as well as Oregon-based assistance, together meet the needs of just 51,000 of the more than 290,000 people who need help affording a place to live. Oregon could help the rest so that no one has to couch surf, live in their cars, or worst of all, pitch a tent along a freeway. This will involve a multi-tiered approach, to ensure that unhoused people’s various struggles – with poverty, mental illness, addiction, or failing health – are also addressed.
Permanent supportive housing (PSH) and Housing First for those who have fallen into a cycle of chronic homelessness have been proven strategies to tackle this challenge. Getting people off the streets and into stable units with support services really works! And it’s much less expensive than managing the impacts of chronic homelessness.
I will support the work of Community Development Corporations and public housers to build and retain affordable rental units and to provide rental assistance for lower-income families and individuals, including seniors, people with disabilities, and those who are just one paycheck or unexpected expense away from losing their housing.
Local governments have stepped up to provide new bonding resources for these efforts as well, and I know that it’s critical to ensure that state governments coordinates with them to leverage every dollar. I will also support efforts to create permanent affordable homeownership, working with such groups as Habitat for Humanity and Proud Ground.
How to pay for these ideas:
Hundreds of millions of dollars could be freed up to invest in this set of Humane Solutions by capping the mortgage interest tax break so that Oregon’s wealthiest no longer receive this homeowner subsidy.
In addition, the Oregon Legislature should refer to the ballot an amendment to enable counties to trigger an increase in value for the vacant, non-owner-occupied homes of affluent people who commercialize these residences in our neighborhoods. This would raise new revenue for housing the homeless and building new affordable units while also discouraging the traffic and neighborhood disruptions often accompanying online platform short-stay rentals.
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.
Ensure that protections for workers and their unions are upheld, including the right to organize, enforcement against wage theft, and minimum wage growth.
Expand Oregon’s recent investment in pre-school through grade 12 funding, to include higher education funding so that more students are prepared for family-wage careers.
Adopt a college loan forgiveness plan that encourages new graduates in teaching, health care, and other critical professions to work in low-income or rural communities.
How to pay for these ideas:
Cancel tax loopholes for the rich. Two examples:
1) Disconnecting from the opportunistic Trump tax break for the wealthy known as the “Opportunity Zone” tax giveaway.
2) Reform the pass-through tax break to eliminate this deduction for high-profit businesses and refocus its business-stimulation purpose for small businesses.
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.
When it comes to women’s health, particularly reproductive health care, the threat from the Trump Administration is especially grave. Though 4 million patients rely on the federal Title X program to access their care, this White House is leading the charge to trap, gag, and ban access to women – especially younger and low-income women – seeking care. With this march to deprive women of control over their bodies, not only is abortion access at risk, so too are life-saving PAP tests, cancer-detecting breast exams, and STD prevention and treatment. Racial bias in health care is another issue demanding our attention. For instance, Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications than are white women. We must do better, and that starts with the implicit assumptions that cause differentials in treatment, as well as working to end the stressors of racism in our communities that set the stage for complications.
Another aspect of health and safety is the prevalence of gun violence. When more than 40,000 gun-violence tragedies happen each year, one has to ask, “when is enough enough?” Most Oregonians support common-sense gun safety policies, such as universal background checks and safe-storage requirements, and many also believe that Oregon can do more.
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.
How to pay for these ideas:
Enact a millionaires’ tax on the top one-tenth of 1% of Oregonians, who have profited the most from 20 years of economic expansion. Dedicate the resources to health care.
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.
Enact the universal pre-school proposal for low-income families that will be on the 2020 ballot. I support efforts to ensure that all children have access to an early learning experience that will boost their readiness and chances for success in school.
Decrease the high co-pay for families qualifying for employment-related day care subsidies (earnings below 183% of the poverty level).
Ensure that childcare workers receive better wages than currently are offered, by subsidizing high-quality programs through state and federal supports. This will attract talented caregivers, reduce turnover, and better reflect our values as Oregonians who care about our children.
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. No responsible candidate for any office has any business ignoring this existential crisis eclipsing all others. 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.
Pass legislation to help create 50,000 family-wage renewable energy and land rehabilitation jobs.
Work to ensure that renewables become more affordable, so that clean energy is not just a luxury for the affluent.
Hold large, corporate polluters accountable for the pollution they create.
By the year 2025, our students of color will be in the majority in Oregon’s public schools. Though Oregon’s history has been majority white, its future is not. Many of the problems we face – poverty, violence, blocked opportunity, poor health, and high teen suicide rates – arise from racism, antisemitism, and anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes and actions. Sexism still pervades our institutions, resulting in gender gaps in pay, in leadership, and in health outcomes, to name a few.
Furthermore, the Trump Administration’s illegal and immoral treatment of refugee and immigrant families is shameful and diminishes us all.
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.