Practical Steps to Improve Middle-Class Incomes and Jobs for Oregonians
By State Representative John Davis
Too few Oregonians are working for too little pay, contributing to income inequality and a stagnating middle-class. That’s what recent data shows, but it’s a trend we can reverse to make Oregon a regional jobs powerhouse.
The troubling facts: July 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics information shows labor force participation in Oregon is nearly 2 points lower than the U.S. average. There would be as many as 61,000 more Oregonians in the labor force if we hit this mark. Moreover, recent Census Bureau data shows Oregonians’ personal income is now 10 percent lower than the U.S. average – amounting to more than $4,000 a year in lost wages for Oregonians. Economists are noting that income inequality increases most steeply in states with the weakest employment growth, so while Oregon may be adding jobs (although not fast enough), we continue to lag in labor participation and personal incomes, the hallmarks of a strong middle-class.
What can we do to add jobs and increase middle-class incomes?
First, invest in education and infrastructure as our top budgetary priorities. We can put teachers in classrooms and have construction workers building our highways immediately, while maintaining a balanced budget. For example, Oregon’s transportation department gets less than $20 million from our $16 billion general fund. We can tighten our belts in dozens of inefficient agencies and allocate existing resources to pave thousands of miles of Oregon highways and county roads, and put thousands of Oregonians to work.
Second, we can relieve the financial burden we place on Oregon workers, which takes money out of our pockets and the private-sector economy. Oregon’s income tax burden, capital gains tax rate and estate taxes rank among the top five states in each category. We also impose these high rates on some of the lowest levels of incomes in the U.S. The poor and middle-class get taxed early and often on their wages. Economists tell us we can create jobs immediately by doubling the lowest two income brackets and providing a per-child tax credit for working families.
Third, help Oregon small businesses hire the unemployed. By partnering with employers in targeted career transition initiatives, we can provide long-term unemployed Oregonians with a bridge to stable careers. At the same time, this creates a more talented and attractive workforce for our employers.
Finally, we can utilize Oregon’s natural assets (land, water and forests) in sustainable, responsible ways. Unfortunately, extreme environmental lawyers have helped create overgrown, burning forests on the one hand while limiting access to vital water and land on the other. We know that reasonable access to our resources can actually help stave off environmental disasters, while creating some of the best careers and long-term employment prospects for rural Oregonians.