Low-wage jobs growing in Oregon, straining safety net

A new report by the UO’s Labor Education Research Center finds that more than 400,000 Oregonians work in low-wage jobs and those jobs are increasingly replacing employment that once brought middle-class salaries.

Despite Oregon’s rebounding economy and record corporate profits, these workers often rely on public safety net benefits for food, childcare, and other basic needs, the report finds.  In a review of 197,000 working adults who receive food stamps, the report found that taxpayers provide an estimated $1.7 billion a year in safety-net assistance to working families in Oregon.

The report, “The High Cost of Low Wages in Oregon,” was released Jan. 8 and is part of the center’s Low Wage Economy Initiative and the Strategic Training and Action Research Fund. It is available on the UO Labor Education and Research Center website.

Finding that low-wage work comprises a growing share of the state’s economy, the report makes a connection between that trend and the record-high demand for taxpayer-funded public services. More than a million Oregonians now rely on food stamps and other assistance, the report says.

According to the report, women are more likely than men to have low-wage jobs and also are more likely to be single parents with irregular, part-time hours. A majority of the parents interviewed for the study said they had to work erratic schedules that changed weekly.

The report also finds that 50 percent of African American workers and 45 percent of Latino workers fall into the low-wage category.

Three-quarters of all low-wage workers in the state work in just five broad occupational fields: sales and retail, food preparation and serving, personal care services, building and grounds cleaning and health care support.

The study notes that most of the employers of low-wage workers in Oregon are large, profitable corporations.  And when compared to other states, Oregon has one of the highest percentages of workers receiving public assistance and one of the lowest corporate tax rates.

For the full report, see “The High Cost of Low Wages in Oregon” on the LERC or UO sociology department website.

The report’s authors are LERC faculty members Raahi Reddy and Bob Bussel, UO sociology and gender studies professor Ellen Scott, UO doctoral student Shauna Dyer and Portland State University School of Community Health affiliated faculty Daniel Morris.

—By Greg Bolt, Public Affairs Communications