Stuck: running in place in Oregon

I work in Hillsboro, OR where evidence of a strong economy is everywhere. It’s tempting to assume that family income must be growing by leaps and bounds in Washington County, too, and to extrapolate and assume all is well statewide.

Not so much.

In fact, even Washington County isn’t doing that great, despite the presence of Intel, which has been growing like kudzu, feverishly sprouting buildings and good jobs.

Way back, growth in the U.S. economy was accompanied by income increases across the board, improving the lot of the poor and expanding the middle class. Everybody shared in the rising tide.

middle_class_family

But that hasn’t been happening for a long time. Now a lot of people find themselves working harder, but just treading water.

“Over the past 25 years, the (U.S.) economy has grown 83 percent, after adjusting for inflation — and the typical family’s income hasn’t budged,” according to a recent analysis by the Washington Post. “In that time, corporate profits doubled as a share of the economy. Workers today produce nearly twice as many goods and services per hour on the job as they did in 1989, but as a group, they get less of the nation’s economic pie.”

The result? In 81 percent of America’s counties, median family income is lower today than it was 15 years ago, the Post analysis revealed.

What about in Oregon? I decided to look deeper. The data shows that in 25 Oregon counties, the inflation-adjusted median family income is lower today than it was 15 years ago.

That’s true even in Washington County where median household income, adjusted for inflation, actually peaked in 1999 at $72,787. That year was also the peak for such wildly dispersed counties as Clackamas, Deschutes and Malheur.

The situation is even worse in counties such as Baker and Lake where median family income, adjusted for inflation, hit its peak 35 years ago.

If you really want to hit bottom, there are six counties, including Curry, Lane and Wheeler, where medium family income, adjusted for inflation, peaked 45 years ago. That’s right, almost half a century ago, when Richard Nixon was inaugurated President and the Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., took their first walk on the moon.

So what we have in Oregon is an economy in which few of us are really better off economically then we were years ago.

Here’s the county-by-county breakdown of when median household income, adjusted for inflation, peaked in each of Oregon’s 36 counties and the level at which it peaked.

Oregon-county-map

County Peak Year Amount
Hood River 2013 $56,725
Sherman 2009 $52,664
Washington 1999 $72,787
Clackamas 1999 $72,264
Columbia 1999 $63,555
Yamhill 1999 $62,070
Polk 1999 $59,218
Benton 1999 $58,558
Deschutes 1999 $58,159
Multnomah 1999 $57,733
Marian 1999 $56,673
Linn 1999 $52,326
Crook 1999 $50,759
Jackson 1999 $50,734
Clatsop 1999 $50,289
Jefferson 1999 $49,678
Tillamook 1999 $48,026
Wallowa 1999 $44,726
Josephine 1999 $43,406
Malheur 1999 $42,525
Morrow 1979 $57,126
Wasco 1979 $54,645
Harney 1979 $54,318
Umatilla 1979 $50,513
Lake 1979 $49,714
Grant 1979 $48,786
Union 1979 $48,006
Lincoln 1979 $47,053
Baker 1979 $42,760
Lane 1969 $52,736
Coos 1969 $52,171
Gilliam 1969 $49,892
Klamath 1969 $49,511
Curry 1969 $49,042
Wheeler 1969 $40,675

SOURCES: U.S. Census and American Community Survey. Amounts in 2013 dollars.

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