As our local newspaper was printing a weeklong series on the beating our local economy has been taking in a small Oregon town, another large document on the subject landed on my desk taking the story even further.

The Northwest Area Foundation covers eight states in the northern area of this country from Washington and Oregon to Iowa and Minnesota. One service it provides is research on the lives of people who live within those boundaries. The latest product deals with how the economy of the last 12 months has changed life for nearly all families. Results were quite similar in all eight states.

Dealing only with the Oregon research, 64% of families surveyed said they have cut back on spending as a result of the recession and, of those, 62% say the cuts will be permanent.

Rural Oregonians are more likely to have had a family member lose a job in the last 12 months (37%) and 27% say they or a family member has had problems paying for basic necessities of food, shelter and utilities.

One of the more revealing figures was the 56% of Oregon families who have cut back on how much was spent for food in the past year. More than half. Almost as startling was 62% of Oregonians believe a family of four in our state would need an annual income $40,000 or more just to make ends meet. Compare that to the federal government’s official poverty threshold minimum: $21,834.

With these figures in mind, and considering how many in our state are in real trouble even with basics, another finding by the Foundation was troubling. More than 40% of people in the survey have no idea where to go in their own communities for help with basic necessities. 40%!

There seems to be two messages there. One is a challenge for those agencies that do provide services for such needs to do more to get their identities out. The other message, to me, is that many people having real trouble now are doing so for the first time and have not previously thought they needed to know about these services so they never bothered to find out about them.

I don’t like writing columns filled with statistics, but there are too many important ones here not to keep going. For example, 55% of sampled Oregonians … or someone in their households … have given or lent money in the past year to someone struggling to get by. But the next finding is even more striking: 58% of those givers/lenders are in the lowest income brackets of $35,000 per year or less! More than half of those needing help have given help to someone else.

And one more significant number on that subject: about one in three (32%) has taken a family member or friend into their home to provide life’s necessities.

While we all know … and keep telling each other … that this financially difficult period will eventually end, the NW Foundation findings came up with an interesting split on that. Overall, 54% of Oregonians are hopeful about the national economy on this subject. But in rural areas, that drops to 48%; less than one in two. Not hard to understand.

Nearly everyone sampled has been affected by these bad economic times, of course, but there was a surprise finding. Well, maybe a surprise only to me. A majority (64%) would be willing to pay $50 more taxes if the money went to help people struggling in their community; 35% were classified as “very willing.” How about that for a ray of sunshine?

Finally, two sets of numbers that really jumped out: 74% said when voting, they think about how well a candidate for office (or incumbent) would help those struggling. And 74% of Oregonians said affordable health care makes a big difference in a family’s ability to make ends meet and they view that as a top or high priority for elected officials. Three out of four!

That’s the kind of overwhelming statistic that makes the current wrangling in Washington DC so embarrassing. We, the people, are telling the elected what we think is important … what we need to make our lives better … and most of them are struggling only with how to keep their “jobs” and, in the process, protect their posteriors with some small voting group.

Given these findings, I’d like to put a question on the next Northwest Foundation survey of all states within it’s purview: “Are those you voted for last time around representing you by addressing your needs and what you consider important in your life?”

I doubt the results would be surprising. In Oregon or anywhere else.

One Response to “Urban or rural: the economy is truly changing our lives”

  1. Sharryn Clark Says:

    Twin Falls paper indicated “most” of their schools,40% enrollment qaulified for reduced or free lunch. Sorry statement about the Northwest!