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One of a handful of counties east of the Cascades to show growth in median income over past five years; nearly 13,000 pounds have been lost through Movin' Mountains in its nine years

You may or may not have personally seen more dollars dropped into your paycheck over the last few years, but if not, odds are your neighbor has.

Jefferson County — the fourth-fastest growing county in the state last year, behind only Deschutes, Crook and Washington County — is doing pretty well economically as well. The Oregonian on Jan. 3 put out a report ranking the state's 36 counties on the basis of median income growth or loss over the five-year period 2012 through 2017. Jefferson County came out impressive.

(Median income is not average income; it is a dividing line where half of the group's incomes are above the line and half below.)

The vast majority of counties that saw median income drop over the past five years are, no surprise, rural counties east of the Cascades. The largest droppers are, in order, Lake, Gilliam, Wheeler, Sherman, Harney and Malheur counties. Lincoln County, on the Coast, was the only county west of the Cascades to be in the bottom 10.

These counties that saw the income drop are some of the same ones that had the highest percentage of population loss over the past year, according to the Portland State University recent statistics.

One neighboring county, Crook, is somewhat of an outlier in regards to growth and median income stats. The second-fastest growing county in the state last year, Crook has seen a surge in job growth partly spurred on by the data storage facilities of Facebook and Apple. However, its median income actually dropped over the last five years, going from $43,081 in 2012 to $41,777 in 2017, a 3.03 percent drop. That rate gave Crook the 11th worst drop among the 36 counties.

Meanwhile, Deschutes County, which everyone knows has been blowing up in population, has seen median income follow that same trajectory. The state's fastest-growing county at 3.3 percent between summer 2017 and this past July, Deschutes has enjoyed the fifth-highest increase in median income over five years, at 7.41 percent, from $55,070 to $59,152.

The county with the biggest jump in median income? No, it isn't in the metro area, Washington, Multnomah or Clackamas. It's Grant County. The timber and ranching county saw median income spike a whopping 22.01 percent, going from $35,740 in 2012 to $44,826 in 2017. That bucks the trend that those losing population are also losing percentages on median income. Grant's population was 7,445 at the 2010 census, but had dropped to 7,400 in 2018.

Grant, Deschutes and Morrow County, which had a growth of 4.89 percent, were the only counties east of the Cascades that had higher growth in median income than Jefferson's 4.53 percent. Not bad.

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Winter, 2010. The Great Recession had taken firm hold. People were losing homes, unemployment was moving upward, the local economy was essentially stagnant.

But a couple of health care professionals — Carolyn Harvey and Beth Ann Beamer — brought an icebreaking axe to this gloom with a community challenge that encouraged people to get healthier, lose some weight and some inches around their middle ... and in doing so, potentially win some money.

In January 2010, the first Movin' Mountains Slimdown Challenge signups were held. It had a unique hook to lure entrants: money was on the line. All of the entry fees would go to prize pools for individuals and teams.

The quirky little community contest caught on. This year marks its 10th year.

The first Movin' Mountains firmly grabbed the attention of the community. A total of 339 people signed up, still the most ever. Everyone thought it would be fun and easy. But changing your eating habits and working out isn't necessarily fun and easy. In 2010, only 31 percent of the entrants made it to the finish line, the final weigh-in at the end of the four-month contest.

The next year saw entries drop substantially, to just 238 people. But the third and fourth years entries shot back up, to 325 both years. From 2014 through 2017, entries ranged between 273 and 239, but the percent of those finishing steadily grew, from 39 to 49 percent in 2017.

Organizers have consistently changed the program, learning each year. Installing weight divisions and two-person teams helped spur participation and increase the number of cash winners. Harvey, community health educator with the Jefferson County Public Health Department, is the sole lead manager of the program now.

Last year's event drew the most participants since 2013 as 325 weighed in — and just under half (48 percent) of those who entered made it to the final weigh-in.

During the nine years of the event, there have been 2,593 entries, 1,060 finishers, and the finishers have shed a combined 12,873 pounds and dropped 5,677 inches around their waist and hips. Wow, that's some mountains moved.


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