UO report cites high costs of low-wage Oregon jobs

One-fourth in low-wage work, many on public aid

EUGENE, Ore. - On Thursday, researchers from the University of Oregon's Labor Education and Research Center and Department of Sociology released The High Cost of Low Wages, a new report that details the economic reality for Oregon's low-wage workers in the post-recession economy.  

The report found that over 400,000 Oregonians – roughly 25 percent of the state's entire workforce  – are employed in low-wage work. Further, about one in seven Oregon workers receive public assistance. 

The report offers new data on the costs of public assistance low-wage workers in Oregon must rely on to make ends meet and how taxpayers are supporting a new form of corporate subsidy to the largest companies employing low-wage workers in the state.

Each year, taxpayers spend over $1.7 billion to subsidize corporations' reliance on a low-wage workforce. Large, profitable corporations in retail, fast food, and health care employ the largest share of low-wage workers using public assistance.  

The report also recommends a set of policy solutions that stand to improve economic opportunity for Oregon's working families while reducing corporate welfare and strengthening the state's economy. 

These policy solutions include:

  • Raising the minimum wage
  • Expanding paid sick leave
  • Addressing wage discrimination
  • Expanding childcare assistance programs
  • Promoting collective bargaining

"This report provides a comprehensive look at how the growth of low wage jobs in Oregon has made it nearly impossible for working adults  to afford the basic necessities to take care of their families," said Raahi Reddy, coordinator of LERC's Low Wage Economy Initiative. "Jobs that provide low wages and no benefits place additional pressure on our social safety net, driving up costs for taxpayers and leaving families struggling just to get by."

To provide a comprehensive view of what the state's current economic structure means for working families, researchers examined official government statistics on employment and wages, and compiled extensive data documenting the growth of low-wage work and its effects on low-income workers in Oregon.

Sociologist Dr. Ellen Scott also conducted 44 interviews with low-wage working parents. These conversations revealed other challenges Oregon's low-wage workers face, including cyclical employment, erratic scheduling, difficulty in finding and affording child care, personal health issues, and crises like violence and homelessness.

Faculty and researchers from the University of Oregon Sociology Department contributed to the report. Additional findings from the report can be found below.

A PDF version of The High Cost of Low Wages is available online: http://lerc.uoregon.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/2014-Oregon-Workforce-Report-The-High-Cost-of-Low-Wages-in-Oregon.pdf

About LERC

Since being established by the Oregon Legislature in 1977, the Labor Education and Research Center (LERC) at the University of Oregon has made the resources and expertise of the higher education system available to workers, unions, policy makers, and community partners throughout Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. LERC is committed to improving the lives of working Oregonians and enhancing their ability to participate effectively in the workplace and community affairs.

The High Cost of Low Wages – Themes and Facts

Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon

January 2015

More Oregonians are working in low-wage jobs and receiving public assistance

  • Over 400,000 Oregonians are employed in low-wage work. That's roughly 25 percent of the state's workforce.
  • Workers outside the Portland metro area are far more likely to end up in low-wage jobs than their urban counterparts.
  • The average wage for the 44 parents interviewed in this report was $1,300 a month.
  • The prevalence of low-wage work means demand for public services is at a record high – over 1 million Oregonians now rely on food stamps and other assistance to feed and support their families.
  • Women are more likely than men to end up in low-wage jobs.
  • Thirty percent of Latino and over 40 percent of African American households are low-wage earners.

Taxpayers are subsidizing the profits of corporations that rely on low-wage workers

  • Many Oregonians work hard every day but still must rely on public safety net programs to make ends meet. The report finds that 197,000 Oregonians who received public assistance in January 2014 worked the previous year.
  • One in seven Oregon workers received public assistance in January 2014.
  • The cost of providing this assistance is high—taxpayers subsidize corporations' reliance on a low-wage workforce to the tune of $1.7 billion a year.
  • Oregon has one of the highest percentages of workers receiving state assistance and one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the country.
  • Mary, a mother of three children working at a rehabilitation facility as a CNA, said, "Without a child care subsidy: I could work, but I'd be living out of a box, or my car. Because how do you pay rent and pay your day care? So I'm glad that we do [have childcare assistance] so then I can work and do what I'm supposed to do."

While wages decline for most workers, corporate profits are at record highs

  • From 2002 to 2012, the bottom three-quarters of Oregon's income distribution saw their net income decrease.
  • The "economic recovery" has bypassed working Oregonians and gone straight to the wealthiest: 95 percent of the income gains from 2009 to 2012 went to the top 1 percent of income earners.

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