Think Out Loud

New research shows economic prosperity of Black Oregonians

By Sage Van Wing (OPB)
Nov. 6, 2023 6:35 p.m.

Broadcast: Monday, Nov. 6

Last week, the Black Business Association of Oregon, in partnership with ECONorthwest, revealed a new Black Economic Prosperity dashboard. The dashboard provides data on the current state of Black Oregonians, which reveals that one out of every five Black individuals in Oregon lives in poverty. Additionally, the median income for Black households is only two-thirds of that for white households, and only 36% of Black households own a home. Lance Randall, executive director of the Black Business Association of Oregon, joins us to discuss the new data.


The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. Last week, the Black Business Association of Oregon, in partnership with ECONorthwest, released something called the Black Economic Prosperity Dashboard. It provides a really stark snapshot of life and death for Black Oregonians. It shows, for example, that one out of every five Black people in Oregon lives in poverty, that the median income for Black households is only two-thirds that of white households, and that life expectancy for Black residents is nearly three years shorter than for white residents. Lance Randall is the executive director of the Black Business Association of Oregon, which commissioned this dashboard. He joins us to talk about both this new data and the path forward. Lance Randall, welcome to Think Out Loud.

Lance Randall: Thank you for the invitation.

Miller: What was the idea behind commissioning this dashboard and putting it together?

Randall: Well, the reason why we put this dashboard together was to get some key data of the socio-economic state of Oregon’s Black population. And a lot of times we look at reports and we look at it from a minority perspective or a BIPOC perspective. And we felt that it was important to pull out the data as it pertains to Black Oregonians so that we can get a better understanding of what is currently happening in Oregon when it comes to Black Oregonians, as a way to inform our strategy to try to improve the situation.

Miller: The Urban League of Portland has put out big reports in the past that we’ve talked about called “The State of Black Oregon.” And they have some data about economics or health care, along with more qualitative things, analysis and essays and writing. What did you think was missing from previous reports like that made you say, there is room for another analysis?

Randall: Well, this is a dashboard, per se, and I think it’s a little bit different from reports where you have to generate the reports and they are presented in documents or in Powerpoints. This dashboard is real-time data that we’re able to track every year, which means that as we make improvements in these different areas, we should be able to see the dashboard change, and we want to be able to do that every year so people can see the progress is being made in the areas that we’re trying to measure.

The information that the Urban League put out is great and it’s provided a good starting point, but we felt that we needed something that was constant, that we can always refer to and take a look.. are we moving the needle or if we’re not? And this dashboard will help inform our strategic plan to make these improvements for Black Oregonians across the state.

Miller: How did you decide what you wanted to include in the dashboard?

Randall: The board of directors got together, actually when they started putting together the Black Prosperity Agenda, the Portland Business Alliance at the time, the National Association of Minority Contractors and other stakeholders, decided to sit down and take a look at at some of the areas that we needed to do to evaluate and measure if we’re going to put this organization together so that we can show positive results. So they had a long list of things that they wanted to measure. And working with ECONorthwest and also the Black Wealth Data Center, we were able to take a look at the list and find avenues where we can get information on certain things, and the categories that you see here is where we can get most of the pertinent information that we can get on an annual basis to measure. And we were able to get the majority of the things that we want to measure into the dashboard.

So it was an effort by a lot of stakeholders who had knowledge of different areas that you take a look at, made the suggestions and we were able to find what we could pull from information from state resources and also from the Black Wealth Data Center.

Miller: Were you surprised by anything that you learned once the data was all collected and it was all available in one place and visually very understandable?

Randall: These statistics that we’re showing here, when it comes to the state of Black Oregonians, this is typical around the country. So I was not surprised that a lot of the information was going to be dismal, but I was pleasantly surprised in some areas that I looked at that showed that Black Oregonians are doing much better here in Oregon than they are in other states around the country. So there’s not a surprise in that regard, but it was surprising that when you compare us to other states - and we are a statewide organization - that we’re doing substantially better than a lot of states around the country.

Miller: Let’s turn to some of the details. The dashboard shows that only 36% of Black Oregonians own their own homes compared to 67% of white Oregonians. This is at a time when state leaders have been focusing on both increasing housing production - that’s one of the governor’s top priorities - but more broadly, addressing housing affordability, and obviously those are tied together. What do you think it would take to increase the rates of home ownership among Black Oregonians?

Randall:  Well, we have to improve the revenue intake of Black Oregonians, which means that we have to help them make more money in order to be able to keep up with the rising cost of housing and other things. And I think a lot of times we focus on the increase in expenses, but we don’t focus on how we help those individuals who are being impacted increase their revenue so that they can keep up with the rise in prices.

So to answer your question, that’s part of what we’re trying to do, is figure out a way to improve the financial situation of Black Oregonians and businesses so that they can keep up with the trends of increase of prices. That’s what has to happen. I mean, we can’t continue to take the data, complain about it, but then we’re not figuring out how to help the people who are disproportionately affected. So we have to do a better job in helping them come up from where they are.


Miller: Do you have specific policy ideas in mind to do that?

Randall: Well, not exactly. There are some thoughts. For example, when you talk about affordable housing, which is a buzzword that is pretty popular nowadays, we talk about affordable housing, but we don’t talk about the individuals who go into public housing.

And of course when you go into affordable housing, in most cases, there’s an income limit, which means that if you go over that limit you’re no longer eligible to be in affordable housing. So when people go into affordable housing, in order to stay in that affordable housing they have to maintain a certain income level. But we want to talk about how do we increase the income level so they can come out of affordable housing and go into market-rate housing? We never talk about the individuals that are there and how do we get them out. I think that this is an opportunity for increased workforce development on site with those individuals in affordable housing so that we can improve their education, we can improve the financial literacy, we can create opportunities so that eventually they were able to come out of affordable housing into market rate.

So that’s an idea I have to increase the workforce development opportunities within the affordable housing dwelling, so that we can get people out of affordable housing to market-rate by increasing their revenue and job opportunities and what have you.

Miller: I’m curious what stood out to you in the business ownership data?

Randall: What stood out to me was that most of the businesses that are owned by Black residents focus in the construction area, in retail and restaurants. And I believe what we’re gonna have to do is we got to help the Black community diversify their entrepreneurial desires or… we have to help them look at other aspects and other segments of the business community where they can go into.

You know we have information technology, we have health care, there are a lot of different things that we can go into. But what I’m noticing is that when it comes to Black business owners, we have a tendency to focus on a very small set of opportunities, mainly focusing on retail, construction, those type of things. So what we have to do from an entrepreneurial perspective is we have to make sure we introduce people to different sectors and let them begin to take a look in those sectors, and find an opportunity where they can fit in and start a business or purchase a business or expand existing businesses or what have you.

That is something that is not just particular for Oregon but it’s around the country. And I think that what we want to do here is be the leaders in trying to shift some of the dynamics when it comes to Black economic prosperity here in Oregon and lead the way so that the rest of the country can see how it can work.

Miller: You say on your website that economic development is community development. What do you mean by that?

Randall: What I mean by that is economic development and community development have to go hand in hand. Community development is where you build a relationship within the community, with your neighbors, with your businesses, and you do certain activities to maintain a certain quality of life and to have relationships where people can do things to keep the community connected.

Economic development is all about generating revenue and paying taxes so that you can have community development. The bottom line is that there’s a cost to have a comfortable, safe community. And most of those expenses are paid for by the taxes that are generated by property taxes, but a lot by business taxes. So if you combine both, where you have people working together and they have access to dollars that are being generated by businesses in the community; community development, economic development, it all comes together when both of them are working simultaneously and doing the things that they need to do.

Unfortunately, in the Black community, there is community development because we are a community of people, but we don’t have enough economic development, which means that we don’t have enough of Black-owned businesses within the communities or supporting the communities to bring about that prosperity. So our goal is to try to increase the level of economic development by standing up more Black businesses, helping those that are existing do better and be more viable. In some instances, if we have to, recruit Black businesses from around the country who are viable who may have an interest in coming out to Oregon to look at the opportunities to do business.

Miller:  We just have about a minute left. But what are you hoping that local or statewide leaders will do with your dashboard?

Randall: Well, what I’m hoping they would do is take a look at the statistics and as this information is rolled out every year, if the needle is not being moved, then they need to really take a deep dive into some of this systemic policies and practices and really take a look to make sure that every segment of the population is benefiting, and to make adjustments so that no one is left behind.

A lot of times we look at the information but we don’t really do anything. And I think if we can constantly show that as years go by you see the same information, or you see it getting worse, or if it is starting to get better, that could be because the policy that was passed or put in place is bringing forth some improvement. So we want to present them something they can see in real time every year that they can refer to, so as they make their policy considerations they can make sure that some systems that are outdated need to be changed or eliminated. And then as they move forward to create other systems, to make sure that they are benefiting everyone equitably. That is our main goal.

Miller: Lance Randall, thanks very much.

Randall: Thank you.

Miller: Lance Randall is the executive director of the Black Business Association of Oregon, which just put out the new Black Economic Prosperity Dashboard.

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