Saturday, September 23, 2006


Housing and Wages

Here in Bend, the median home price is well beyond a quarter of a million dollars. Not only do workers have to support a family, they have to pay for shelter that’s way way overpriced.

Once the stock market proved less than a sure-thing, people on the make have touted real estate as the only way to surely make money. Mortgage brokers have had a great run; realtors’ commissions got bigger and bigger; cities’ tax bases have increased—BUT!

Something isn’t quite right. How can it be when less than a fifth of the jobs pay enough to support a family? And probably a smaller fraction of the jobs in Bend, one of the highest-priced housing markets in the country, pay an adequate amount.

Study: Less than 20% of Oregon jobs can support a family
Living wage - A researcher sees a need for a higher minimum and more training
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
The Oregonian

Fewer than one in five jobs in Oregon pay a so-called living wage -- enough to cover basic living costs -- for an entire family with two children, according to a report Tuesday by an advocacy group.

However, if two adults work, the report says, 48 percent of jobs pay enough to meet basic living expenses of a two-child family.

The report, called the Northwest Job Gap Study, found that nearly two in three jobs pay at least $11.83 an hour, the wage needed to cover average living costs such as food, housing and taxes for a single adult.

But less than 20 percent of Oregon jobs, taken alone, can provide for the basic needs of families with at least two children, said Gerald Smith, a study co-author with the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations. A single parent with two children in Oregon needs to make $23.40 an hour to cover expenses, including child care, the study found. Two working adults raising two children need to bring in a combined $30.38 an hour.

Smith said the findings highlight the need for state and local governments to set a higher minimum wage while also expanding job-training and apprenticeship opportunities.

"It's the two aspects we'd like to see policymakers and lawmakers improve," Smith said.

The living-wage movement has been around for more than a decade but has gained new momentum as labor, community and religious groups push for cities and states to enact higher minimum wages and target mega-retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The Chicago City Council recently failed to override Mayor Richard Daley's veto of a living-wage ordinance. The measure would have required large retailers to pay at least $10 an hour plus $3 an hour in benefits by mid-2010.

Critics say by making jobs more costly for employers, living-wage laws eliminate low-wage jobs. In addition, they say, such laws do most to help young single people.

Research by the Public Policy Institute of California in 2005 found that living-wage laws in major metropolitan areas increased the wages of the lowest-paid workers but reduced employment among the lowest-paid and most poorly trained workers.

"They are not a panacea for the problem of low-wage work and poverty," the study's authors, Scott Adams and David Neumark, said of the laws.

The authors say other policies are needed, including job training that targets higher-paying jobs.

Multnomah County, Portland, Corvallis and Ashland have adopted living-wage ordinances affecting its contractors. Portland's ordinance requires that maintenance workers, security guards and parking lot attendants be paid at least $10.57 an hour, including benefits, city officials say.

The Northwest Federation of Community Organizers, a group promoting social and racial justice, arrived at its wage estimates by crunching mostly government data. It came up with an average budget for food, rent, transportation and other expenses, then calculated average wage rates from government employment surveys.

The group's living-wage estimate has risen faster than inflation over the past four years, the report found, largely because of the growing proportion of health-insurance costs that employees are being asked to foot.

Brent Hunsberger: 503-221-8359;,

©2006 The Oregonian

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