Our 2015 focus was wealth inequality in Oregon, and the growing share of low wage workers who could not earn enough to support themselves without a strong public safety net. We provided the data, policy analysis, and community conversation needed to develop policy that responds the the realities of Oregon's economy – including costs of living, median income, and regional labor markets. 

Data-Driven Policy: Moving more Oregonians to Self Sufficiency

No one who works full time should live in poverty. Self Sufficiency – the ability to pay for the basics without public or private help – should be our goal for every working Oregonian. But in Oregon today, 28% of Oregon households with two income earners cannot meet this basic goal. This bill responds to the rising costs of living.

Including All: Balancing Rural & Urban concerns

While every hardworking Oregonian should be able to live on what they earn, that means different things in different parts of Oregon. Housing alone is 30% more expensive in the greater Portland area than in eight rural counties. According to a 2014 PSU report, “77% of all Oregonians that are below [Self Sufficiency] are located in urban areas, versus 23% in rural counties.” At the same time Oregon’s rural businesses are recovering from the great recession at a much slower pace than their urban counterparts.

 Oregon is in a unique position in the national movement to increase the minimum wage. A single city is not permitted to raise wages in Oregon, as Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago have done. This has required lawmakers to evaluate the impact and benefits of an increased wage on the entire state – not just one city or urban area. This is good for Oregon. The state’s diverse regional economies require an innovative minimum wage solution to address the complexities of an interdependent but uneven state economy.

 Including All: Oregon’s Communities of Color

Too often, a compromise solution leaves out Oregon’s most vulnerable communities. According to US Census data, more than half of all Oregonians of color live in the region where the wage will increase most quickly and to the highest level.

The First Step: Oregon Needs a Comprehensive Solution

With this policy more Oregon workers will be able to afford the basics. This is a critical piece of the puzzle for addressing poverty and income inequality in Oregon. But it does not fix the fact that day care in Oregon is the most expensive in the nation, or that housing costs will continue to rise. A complete solution – that includes funding for earned income tax credits, smart housing policies, and investment in rural workforce development – is still needed. But this is a necessary first step.


GATHering local perspectives on a regional wage

Northwest Health Foundation and North Star Civic Foundation joined together in 2015 to listen to business and community leaders in six Oregon communities and gather concrete ideas and community-informed solutions around a proposed increase in the minimum wage in 2016 or 2017. 


Nearly 1 in 6 Oregonians lives in poverty, and 2 in 5 can’t afford to pay for basics such as housing, transportation and food without public assistance. Both of our foundations support an increase in the minimum wage as one component of a statewide effort to reduce poverty and help all communities flourish. We engaged in this listening process to inform our own positions on current proposals to increase the minimum wage.

North Star Civic Foundation and Northwest Health Foundation found that Oregon must increase the minimum wage as part of a larger effort to address increasing levels of poverty among working Oregonians. We also believe that Oregon’s diverse regional economies require an innovative minimum wage solution. This solution should address the complexities of an interdependent but uneven state economy. 

Please read our full report, which includes both economic data concerning cost of living and economic factors for rural areas, as well as a chronicle of perspectives from employers in Benton, Clatsop, Deschutes, Lane, Jackson and Umatilla Counties.


November 6. North Star Civic Foundation Chair Stan Amy speaks about the moral imperative to raise the minimum wage at a City Club of Portland event, with panelists from the Oregon Nurseries Association and the City Club research committee on minimum wage.

Over the last 10 months a City Club research committee has delved into one of the biggest challenges facing Portland and Oregon today: Should Oregon raise the minimum wage - and should Portland's wage floor be higher than other parts of the state? We have significant economic diversity across Oregon.

February 23. The Atlantic. Oregon’s tiered system is interesting because it addresses one of the chief concerns some economists have about raising federal or state minimum wages: that rural areas will struggle to weather a decrease in jobs that may come with the increased cost of labor.

February 18. ABC News. Oregon lawmakers approve landmark minimum wage increase.

February 18. Statesman Journal. Oregon is trailblazing a national debate with a proposal that would not only make the state's minimum wage for all workers the highest in the U.S., but also set the threshold through a unique tiered system based on geography.

January 14. Oregonian: Brown has been clear since last fall that she supports a higher statewide wage that goes easier on rural areas but that also reflects the expense of living and working in Portland.

January 13. Portland Tribune: Dembrow's proposal would set three different regional minimums based on area median income and cost of living. The concept is based on research by North Star Civic Foundation that found different minimums would better suit Oregon's "uneven state economy."

December 17. Capital Press: Sen. Michael Dembrow, chairman of the Oregon Senate Workforce Committee, has proposed three regional minimum wages in Oregon. The minimum wage would be highest in Portland and lowest in rural Oregon. “We needed to take into account cost of living and economic vitality in different parts of the state.”

December 8. Oregonian: A draft bill by Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, would divide the state into three regions — Portland, the Willamette Valley and everywhere else — with different minimums for each. The Portland metro area, including Washington and Clackamas counties, would have the highest.

October 8. Portland Tribune: A group of Portland business leaders working quietly to shape the debate over an Oregon minimum wage hike has already had an impact.