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In Southwest Portland, the first step toward fighting poverty can be as easy as $1.23

Drew's views


The Southwest Community Connection is published by Pamplin Media Group, the largest producer of community news in Oregon. Its flagship outlet is the Portland Tribune. All of the greater Portland metropolitan area falls under the Tribune’s purview, but along with the Sellwood Bee on the Eastside, The Connection is one of only two papers whose coverage area actually overlaps with the Tribune’s. By virtue of this geographical common ground, The Connection and the Tribune often share reportage, printing stories originally written for the Tribune in The Connection and vice versa. But I feel it is incumbent upon me to go on the record and tell my readers that on one particular issue, the editorial board of the Tribune and I do not exactly see eye to eye.

On Jan. 2 the Portland Tribune ran a piece titled “Our Opinion: Minimum wage hike won’t stifle inequality.” In it, the paper’s editorial board wrote: “In Oregon, increasing the minimum wage from $8.95 per hour to $9.10 probably isn’t going to have a dramatic negative impact on small businesses, as some claim, but neither is it going to pull people out of poverty (the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour). For the minimum-wage employee working 30 hours per week, they will be making about 64 cents more per day.”

The board appears to have arrived at this 64-cent figure by multiplying $8.95 per hour by a multiple of 30 hours worked per week ($268.50), subtracting that from the product of $9.10 and the weekly hours worked ($273) to calculate the weekly difference ($4.50) and then dividing that figure by 7 (i.e., the number of days in a week).

However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2010 the average number of hours worked per day by part-time workers is 5.37, which amounts to 37.59 hours per week. If applying the same equation used above to this new weekly figure, a minimum-wage employee would be making about 80 cents more per day, or $5.63 a week.

Though this variation might not seem mathematically significant, its effect is poignant. For many that extra $1.23 can mean the difference between affording a sandwich and having to skip lunch or affording an antidepressant and having to suffer through depression.

The board said, “The real motivation for finding practical ways to combat income inequality should be what many economists are now saying: It’s a drag on the economy.”

It’s easy to say that when you know where your next meal and every one after that is coming from, that you’ll be able to afford school supplies for your children and business attire for yourself to make a good impression and ascend that corporate ladder.

But for many Oregonians, and for the Generation Y children of Southwest Portlanders just starting their careers and living with their parents while not yet earning a living wage, the wait for long-term economic reform can feel like an eternity.

In “The Working Poor: Invisible in America,” Pulitzer Prize winner David Shipler writes: “There is no single variable that can be altered to help working people move away from the edge of poverty. Only where the full array of factors is attacked can America fulfill its promise. The first step is to see the problems, and the first problem is the failure to see the people.”

A booming economy in the United States means very little if it comes at the expense of the citizens who make it up. My colleagues at the Tribune said, “If we, as a country, are going to solve the problem of economic inequality, the answer doesn’t lie in throwing more money at government programs, but rather finding the means to put an end to the practices that put us here in the first place.”

I hope the policymakers do create a better, more prosperous future. But please, powers that be, don’t forget about the poor — and giving them the support they need — in the meantime.

Drew Dakessian is the lead reporter of The Southwest Community Connection. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..