Sustaining Incomes Needed To Afford Oregon’s Famous Quality Of Life

by | Apr 19, 2011

I’ve tried to explain “the other side of Oregon” to friends from outside the state who don’t know about the economic hardships many Oregonians endure. The Beaver State’s high unemployment rate, coupled with inflation, is a misery inducer for those caught in its jaws–one in four Oregonians is under-employed and one in five is on food stamps.

When we consider these problems it’s easy to think only about the loss of low-to-middle income jobs, but it’s not just factory jobs and agricultural jobs that are missing from the local economy. Many of the region’s high paying jobs are going to outside talent because Oregon isn’t producing enough qualified workers. That was the message delivered by Intel software chief Renee James at Portland Business Alliance’s (PBA) annual meeting this morning.

According to The Oregonian, James said that the state’s education system isn’t generating enough skilled workers and that Oregon isn’t doing enough to support entrepreneurship. “Innovation leaves Portland,” James lamented in her keynote address at the Oregon Convention Center. “Instead of being a lifestyle city, we should endeavor to become an innovation city that has a great lifestyle.”

It’s important to note that James, one of the top execs at Intel (which is Oregon’s largest employer), received her Bachelors and Masters from University of Oregon. So she’s clearly pulling for the home team. But sometimes the home team needs a new pitcher. And a new first baseman, center fielder, shortstop and so on.

Here’s a new commercial from PBA that makes the case for job creation:

When you click over to PBA’s microsite, (as the video requests), there’s this additional information to consider:

Oregon is an income-tax-dependent state. The state’s schools, community colleges, universities, social and human services and corrections services all depend largely on revenue derived from taxes on personal income. The region’s low wages and declining per capita income translate into anemic state income tax revenues, which directly impacts the state’s ability to deliver social services. Economists have predicted that Oregon faces a decade of state budget deficits and is likely to fall about $3 billion short of the funds needed to maintain current services in every two-year budget cycle.

Bottom line, Oregonians need high paying jobs to reverse the tide. But is it wrong to think we might also benefit from a sales tax? To ensure essential services, the income has to come from somewhere. Certainly we’re all for a focus on jobs creation, but where do these jobs come from when the economy is ailing? Incentives for small business owners is a great start, but the state can only do so much, especially when it’s hamstrung by a budget shortfall. Businesses need to create jobs on their own, but many businesses are too busy hanging on to add another person to the payroll.

Sadly, the cycle keeps repeating and the momentum we need keeps slipping away. It is time to take common sense steps to walk our way out of this. Growing industrial hemp for food, fiber and fuel is a common sense step and an American industry waiting to happen. Oregon could encourage farmers to grow hemp despite the federal law prohibiting the production of the crop. Many states would follow our lead on this and we could help right a serious wrong, but what’s important is increased farm incomes and the number of new businesses that would “crop up” to make things from hemp.

Perhaps you have a better idea? I’d love to hear it.

Previously on Burnin’: Exodus, Movement of Jah People

[UPDATE] just sent me a list of 10 Great Companies to Work For in Portland, Oregon.