A new Multnomah County report on poverty shows that Portland's economic boom is leaving large swaths of the population behind: A third of Portland-area households cannot meet their basic needs, and 16 percent of county residents meet the federal definition of poverty.
The report is based on years of data regarding Portland-area income and living standards, and shows that economic prosperity in the form of salary has risen for residents with advanced degrees, but has left behind residents without advanced degrees who normally work for low or middle wage.
"Unemployment rates have declined, but even full-time employment isn't enough to lift many workers out of poverty," the report reads. "Meanwhile, steep increases in the costs of housing, child care, and other necessities have made it
harder for households with low incomes to meet their basic needs."
Demographic splits in the report show how poverty disproportionately affects minority populations: 33% of single-parent homes meet the poverty threshold, and 25% of people of color meet the threshold.
Age groups show an unexpected split: only 11% of seniors are impoverished, whereas 32% of residents ages 18-24 are impoverished.
The report highlights that the federal definition of poverty, while the only national standard for what's considered poverty based on annual income and the size of the household, inadequately measures a family's ability to afford basic needs—explaining the discrepancy between the county's one third statistic regarding inability to afford basic needs, and the county's statistic showing that 16% of residents meet the definition of impoverished.
"Official measures of poverty rely on the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), but that is a very limited definition of poverty that leaves out a significant portion of the population that is unable to meet its basic needs," the report reads.
The report largely hinges on a different standard, called the Self-Sufficiency Standard, that takes into account the rising costs of various necessities not included in the national standard.
The standout figure stated in the report—34% of county residents cannot afford basic needs without assistance programs or outside financial help—was determined using the Self-Sufficiency Standard.
The results of this year's report show only slight differences from a similar county poverty report from 2014, when 36% of county residents could not afford basic needs.
Harsh racial disparities in poverty continue to climb. The report shows that the average median income for black households is half that of white households, and poverty rates for racial minorities are more than double the rates of poverty amongst the white population.
The report attributes much of the racial disparities to other racial inequities stemming from educational disparities, varying access to transportation and social services, and disparities in generational 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 states. "This perpetuates economic inequities by reducing access to education, capital, and the financial security necessary to weather crises."
Among the report's dismal findings: Full-time employment does not always suffice for pulling a family out of the poverty zone.
In 2017, 24% of families in the state who were living in poverty had one or more parents working a full-time job, the report shows.