Black and White People Sit at the Extreme Ends of the Multnomah County Wealth Gap

That gap has grown for the past 40 years and is ongoing.

Life in Portland for Black and white people is overwhelmingly different. In the coming weeks, WW will explore these contrasting realities—the inequities that have molded the Black experience in this city and state. This week, we look at poverty.

Multnomah County poverty rates are highest in the Black community, compared with any other racial or ethnic group in Multnomah County—while white people are in the exact opposite position.

According to a December 2019 county report, 35% of the Black population faces poverty compared with 14% of white people. That drastic income difference is a root cause of why an average Black family can't afford to live within Portland city limits, as WW reported July 8.

The racial disparity corresponds with a geographic one. Outer East Portland, where many Black people live, has the highest poverty rates in Multnomah County, with 22% of residents living without basic necessities. According to the county report, East Portland has inadequate access to resources such as public transit, parks, quality education and food. This increases children's chances of remaining in poverty when they come of age.

The racial wealth gap has grown for the past 40 years and is ongoing. In the report, 24% of white households experience "asset poverty"—that is, a lack of property that can be passed along—while Black people again have the highest rate, at 52%. For decades, banks and other establishments refused Black people access to creating generational wealth. That legacy is reflected in these numbers.

Poverty is defined as a household with an income below 100% of the federal poverty level. Although 16% of Multnomah county residents meet this official definition, many are undercounted and 34% still cannot meet basic needs based on their income.

This reporting has been funded in part by a grant from the Jackson Foundation. See more Black and White in Oregon stories here.