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Oregon economist shows vast difference in wealth distribution across county

FILE PHOTO - Christian Kaylor, an economist with the Oregon Employment Department, talked income in Multnomah County. An Oregon economist shared data during an issue forum Thursday afternoon, Feb. 7, that showed the negative affect of how Multnomah County's statistics are kept.

According to Christian Kaylor, an economist with the Oregon Employment Department, the high incomes in West Multnomah County propel the entire region's averages upward, making it more difficult for organizations in East Multnomah County to secure financial aid.

"There is more poverty and unemployment in this county than Central Oregon, Eastern Oregon and the Oregon Coast combined," Kaylor said.

The presentation was made as part of an East County Issue Forum hosted by Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann at Gresham City Hall, 1333 N.W. Eastman Parkway. During the event, Kaylor shared statistics that highlight the stark difference in income and wealth across the county.

In West Portland, the average income is $97,372. In Gresham it is $50,000 and East Portland is $44,592.

"East Portland is one of the lowest income places in all of Oregon," Kaylor said. "There is a very big difference in how much you make based on what street you are standing on."

In the Portland region, job growth was 2.4 percent in 2017, which made it the 11th fastest growing region in the country. In Multnomah County, 90 percent of all jobs are in the city of Portland. The city added 67,341 jobs from 2013 to 2014.

"Most people who work in the city of Portland don't live there," Kaylor said.

But the problem, according to Kaylor, is that income growth has been tied to the highest earners in the community. A small group of people with six-figure incomes are inflating the average income, so Portland placing in the top-10 nationally for wealthiest cities is deceptive.

"The vast majority of income growth came from households with incomes of more than $100,000," Kaylor said.

Kaylor attributed it to the influx of professional and technical services in the region. Those are the lawyers, doctors, and software engineers. From 2007 to 2017, professional and technical services grew 39 percent, compared to 13 percent for all industries. Those positions also had an average wage of $85,400 in 2017.

In East Multnomah County, 18 percent of the population falls under the poverty line, while 26 percent of children face poverty, which is the highest rate in the entire state.

"These numbers are what you would usually associate with a rural, poor community," Kaylor said.

One possible reason for the disparity in income that Kaylor shared is the education level of residents. In Gresham, only 20 percent of people ages 25 to 34 had a college degree, according to the 2017 U.S. Census. That is less than a third of West Portland, which had 65 percent.

The ramifications for many of the people at the meeting, which consisted of members of local nonprofit organizations, school districts, businesses and local government, is a difficulty in securing financial support for programs.

"We have to change the narrative to get more support for communities in need in East Multnomah County," Kaylor said.

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