More than one-third of Multnomah County households are not earning enough to meet their basic needs, according to a report released on Tuesday.
A new report requested by the county found that while the area’s economic boom has benefited the already wealthy, wages have stagnated for low and middle-class households. At the same time, the cost of necessities like housing, child care and transportation has risen rapidly in the region.
This has left the county’s households struggling to keep up.
The report found 16% of the county’s population meets the federal definition of poverty, which is used to determine eligibility for assistance programs like SNAP. This year, families of four would be considered to be living in poverty under the federal definition when they earn less than $25,750.
But Peggy Samolinski, who oversaw the report as the director of Multnomah County's Youth and Family Services division, said just looking at the federal poverty level isn’t enough to get a real sense of how many households are struggling to make ends meets.
That’s where something called the Self-Sufficiency Standard comes in. This measurement takes into account how much a family is spending on necessities like housing, health care, food, child care and transportation in determining whether a family is experiencing poverty.
Under this standard, 34% of Multnomah County families are living in poverty.
The standard “essentially reflects what it takes to live in this community,” said Samolinski. “It’s more realistic, as opposed to the federal standard that was developed in the ‘60s.”
According to the standard, a Multnomah County family composed of two adults, an infant, and a preschooler would be considered unable to meet their basic needs if they were making less than $89,273.
The numbers released Tuesday aren’t all that different from where they stood when the county last commissioned a report on poverty in 2014. That year, the report found 36% of homes were unable to make ends meet, 2 percentage points over this year's rate. In that year, 17% of homes met the federal definition of poverty, compared to this year’s 16%. And 7% were living in “deep poverty” with incomes below half of the federal poverty level, compared to this year’s 8%.
“For those who are struggling to meet their basic needs, it hasn’t gotten much better,” said Samolinski. “Yet, we talk about how our economy is thriving and growing, and still some of these issues are really persistent and deep.”
She said these trends are particularly worrying among people of color, who represent less than one-third of the county but composed nearly half of those living in poverty.
The report states these trends “are directly linked to disparities in assets and wealth.”
“The historic legacy of institutional and structural racism has limited the ability of people of color to accumulate wealth and pass it from one generation to the next,” the report reads.
The report also found disproportionately high levels of poverty among single-parent families (33%), young adults (32%), and people with disabilities (28%).