Still struggling: four Oregon areas still missing in action

The Great Recession is over. Right? Don’t tell that to the folks who live in four areas of Oregon designated among the most distressed communities in the state.

According to an exhaustive analysis just released by the Economic Innovation Group (EIG), a significant portion of Americans still feel like the recovery has left them behind. That translates into over 30 million Americans living in communities defined by slow job growth, vanishing businesses, and fewer opportunities to move up the economic ladder.

EIG used seven metrics to assess economic well-being:

  • Educational Attainment: Percent of population 25 years and over with a high school degree.
  • Housing Vacancy Rate: Percent of habitable housing that is unoccupied.
  • Unemployment Rate: Share of the labor force that is unemployed.
  • Poverty Level: Percent of population living under the poverty line.
  • Median Income Ratio: Ratio of the zip code’s median income to the state’s median income.
  • Change In Employment: Percent change in the number of individuals employed.
  • Change in Business Establishments: Percent change in the number of businesses.

Oregon compares relatively well overall to the rest of the country in terms of the economic health of its residents (EIG considers just 4% to be living in economic distress,, but it’s not totally in the clear.

Based on the metrics above, the following Oregon zip codes earned the dubious distinction of being the state’s most economically distressed areas in four different population density categories:

Density Category Location Zip Code
Very High Portland 97209
High Portland 97204
Medium Medford 97501
Low Christmas Valley 97641

Zip code 97209 in Portland is the most distressed area in the Very High Density category in Oregon.

Zip Code 97209

Zip Code 97209

Approximately 35.1% of 97209’s population lives in a low-income household with an annual income of less than $25,000 and another 20.7 percent live in a household earning an annual income between $25,000 and $50,000.

Portland zip code 97204 is the most distressed area in the High Density category.

Zip Code 97204

Zip Code 97204

Estimated annual median household income is just $13,350, significantly below the state average, and 91 percent of the households have an annual income of less than $30,000. Residents with a high school degree or less comprise 78 percent of the population.

Zip code 97501 in Medford is the most distressed area in the Medium Density category in Oregon.

Zip Code 97501

Zip Code 97501

Approximately 34.6% of 97501’s population lives in a household with an annual income of less than $25,000. Another 29.1% live in a household earning an annual income between $25,000 and $50,000. Annual median household income is $36,157. That puts 97501 363rd among all of Oregon’s zip codes.

As a side note, maybe tied to the local economy, 97501 has almost 8 bars per 10,000 residents, 32% more bars than average for Oregon and  95% more than the United States as a whole.

Zip code 97641, a sparsely populated area in Christmas Valley is the most distressed area in the low density category in Oregon.

Zip Code 97641

Zip Code 97641

Only 12 percent of the population has education beyond high school, connected, perhaps, to the fact that the median annual household income is 20,795 and 66% of the households have an annual income below $30,000.

In the coming weeks, EIG will be developing tools to enable people to easily compare communities and dive deeper into what is driving economic distress or prosperity. You will be able to see how well your community is doing, and then compare it to others across the country

Honey, our paychecks are shrinking

It was a lofty goal.

One of the principal goals of the Oregon Business Plan when it launched in 2002 was to raise Oregon’s per capita personal income above the national average by 2020.


So much for that dream.

Oregon’s per capita personal income in 2013, total personal income divided by total population, was 90.3 percent of the U.S. average, which was actually down from 2001, when it was 94.6 percent.*

Oregon’s per capita income has grown for the past three years, and that’s reason for optimism, but so has the per capita income in other states, so Oregon is still lagging behind.

Eric Fruits, a faculty member at Portland State University, warns against braking out the bubbly over Oregon’s income growth, even though it put Oregon 15th in personal income growth among the United States and the District of Columbia. That’s because, he argues, over the long run Oregon’s per capita income growth has lagged the rest of the U.S. by two to four tenths of a percentage point and the difference compounds over time.

“Even the tiniest drags on the economy can compound over time such that a state that begins almost nine percent richer than the rest of the country can end up decades later being nine percent poorer than the rest of the country,” Fruits wrote recently.

Equally troubling is that behind the per capita income numbers are some discouraging data on Oregon’s and the nation’s changing workforce.

Oregon’s job growth in 2013, during which its job base grew by 2.4 percent and it added about 39,000 jobs, was one of the fastest in the country. It was exceeded only by North Dakota and Florida.  If the pace continues this year, Oregon could recover all the jobs lost in the recession before 2014 ends.

Already, the country as a whole has regained all the jobs lost during the Great Recession, though it took six and one-half years. But consider that the country’s population has grown by about 15 million since the Great Recession began and the potential workforce has grown as well.

Also, consider the types of jobs that are being created.

At the start of 2008, a private-sector worker earned $818.31 a week. In April 2014, almost six and one-half years later, that figure had grown to $838.70, just $20 a week more.

While the economy has been adding jobs, the new jobs are not enough to keep up with population growth and too often aren’t the solid middle class jobs we need for the overall economy to thrive.

“Although employers added jobs in a broad range of industries, the bulk of new jobs added are found in a handful of industries known for low wages—accommodation and food services, temporary help services, retail trade, and long-term health care, ” the left-leaning Center for American Progress notes.


If Oregon really wants to advance relative to other states, we need more firms selling lots of products, hiring lots of people, and paying high wages to generate the gains that are needed across the state, the Oregon Business Plan recently noted.. That means we need to start more, grow more, recruit more and retain more highly productive companies in a variety of sectors across the state.



*Per capita personal income

National        Oregon

2002       $31,481         $29,400

2003       $32,295         $30,144

2004       $33,909         $31,597

2005       $35,452         $32,542

2006       $37,725         $34,644

2007       $39,506         $35,796

2008       $40,947         $36,772

2009       $38,637         $35,621

2010       $39,791         $35,869

2011       $41,560         $37,744

2012       $42,693         $39,166

2013       $44,543         $40,233


*Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis; Oregon Employment Department, WorkSource Oregon