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Sarah Holtzclaw
Director of Policy & Communications

Scott Cooper
Executive Director

February 2011
Officially, one out of every nine people in Central Oregon lives in poverty. However, nearly one in three of us are
hovering above the official poverty line - lacking the necessary income needed to live decently. Whether living under
the official poverty threshold or hovering above it, those with low incomes face a number of barriers that keep them
from overcoming their situation and becoming economically stable. It is an obstacle course to be traversed daily. An
education and a job can eliminate or alleviate poverty , but first you have to get one of these, and that’s not so easy
for many. Moreover, even if you are lucky enough to have an education and a job, multiple barriers can still exist to
achieving economic security.

Note: we have chosen to focus this document on barriers people face rather than root causes of poverty. Causes and
barriers are often the same. However, we believe that barriers are simply that—obstructions that can be moved and

1. Low Education/Job Skills

Changes in our economy have made it increasingly hard for workers with a high school education or less to earn enough
to support a family. A person without a high school education in Oregon is 72 percent more likely to be in poverty than
one with a high school degree.2 In Oregon, 91 percent of those receiving cash assistance have 12 years or less of schooling.3
A worker with a 4-year college degree earns 125 percent more on average than one with a high school degree.4 In addition
to specific job skills, the acquisition of soft job skills, such as communication, problem-solving and time-management
skills can increase earnings nearly 25 percent.5 However, this is the tip of the iceberg. Along with higher lifetime earnings,
a college education has been shown to improve health, to improve the health of one’s children and to extend life expectancy.6

2. Low-wage Employment/Unemployment
As the American economy has shifted from manufacturing to service jobs, the number of higher paying jobs for low-
skilled workers has diminished. Twenty-nine percent of the jobs in Central Oregon are in typically lower-paying hospitality
and retail.7 Additionally, much of this work is seasonal or part-time, offering little room
for advancement and little if any benefits.8 This mirrors research showing nationally,
Poverty rates that nonstandard employment is high in nonmetropolitan areas.9 Though Oregon’s
in female- minimum wage is higher than the federal level, in real dollar terms it is still below the
headed households minimum wage of 40 years ago.10 In addition, women are much more likely to earn
poverty-level wages than men.11
are typically
3 to 4 times as 3. Single Motherhood
Family structure is highly correlated with poverty. Households run by single mothers,
high as those whether the consequence of divorce or birth of out-of-wedlock childbirth, are far more
for the general likely to be in poverty. Poverty rates in female-headed households are typically 3 to 4
population. times as high as those for the general population.12 According to the U.S Census, the
poverty rate in 2008 for single parents with children was 35.6 percent13, compared to a
rate among married couples with children of 6.4 percent.14 Adding to the struggle, half
of all out-of-wedlock births are to teen mothers.15 Unfortunately, this also affects the
children in the family and their ability to rise out of poverty. Over half of black children,
a quarter of Hispanic children, and 18 percent of white children are living with only
their mothers.16

4. Lack of Health or Dental Care

Health and life expectancy in the United States are strongly correlated with income.
People who live at the bottom of the socio-economic strata are more likely to be sick and
hospitalized due to the compounding impacts of poverty.17 Greater exposure to forces
that cannot be controlled, such as a low-paying job, unreliable transportation and poor
childcare creates chronic stress. That chronic stress can be toxic, causing heart disease
and high blood pressure, and even shortening life span by as much as 20 years.18 Approx-
imately half the people living below the federal poverty line work;19 yet they frequently
have no health insurance. Rural residents are twice as likely to be uninsured as their urban
counterparts.20 Poor health and lack of insurance can create significant medical debt. Fifty-three percent of low-income
adults and 56 percent of moderate-income adults in the U.S. struggle to pay medical bills.21 Overall, 61 percent of under-
insured or uninsured adults in the United States report problems with medical bill and medical debt.22 Research shows
that 62 percent23 of bankruptcies are rooted in excessive medical debt.

5. Unreliable Transportation
Transportation to work is a particular challenge for those living in rural environments with distant and scattered
populations.24 If a person cannot reliably get to employment, that employment will not be retained for any length of
time. Studies show that transportation is a major source of absenteeism for recently hired recipients of public assistance,
with 41 percent of his/her absences are likely attributable to transportation problems.25 Lack of access to a reliable
private vehicle is often reported as the most serious barrier to employment for low-income persons and recipients of
public assistance in rural areas.26 Only 1 in 4 adults in rural areas receiving government cash assistance (TANF) even
owns a registered vehicle.27 And yet, rural governments find it difficult to fund and provide public transportation to the
wide areas they serve. Non-traditional work hours, such as night-, swing- and weekend shifts may not occur in conjunc-
tion with scheduled public transportation services, and lack of transportation affects not only employability but also
access to other services essential to preventing poverty including training programs, medical appointments, agency
appointments, and childcare facilities.28

6. Lack of Affordable Housing

Any household budget dedicating more than 30 percent of its income to housing costs 41% of work
is considered “cost burdened”.29 Yet, 71 percent of low-income renter households in the
United States spend more than half of their monthly income on housing.30 The average absences by
renter in Deschutes County must earn at least $14.77 per hour and work full time to TANF recipients
live in an affordable 2-bedroom rental31 while Crook and Jefferson county renters must are likely due to
earn $12.92 and $12.12, respectively.32 For low-income families who cannot find afford-
able housing, homelessness is a constant threat, and for many, a reality. During the last transportation
1-night homeless count, volunteers counted 2,402 individuals who self-identified as problems.
homeless.33 The school systems in Central Oregon have over 1,300 known homeless
students in their schools.34 Both of these numbers are an increase over 2009 and show
no sign of leveling off. Homelessness creates additional challenges because without
a home, it is difficult to maintain adequate nutrition and hygiene, seek or maintain
employment, receive mail or maintain contact with financial institutions or maintain
stable relationships. In addition, many homeless people encounter unavoidable entan-
glement with the legal system as they seek to meet life’s basic needs with no supports.

7. Childhood Poverty
Child poverty and economic hardship can have significant consequences for children’s
development and life chances. Today, 19.2 percent of children in Oregon live in
poverty.35 Unfortunately, children who experience poverty are more likely to be poor
as adults. Growing up in poverty can be harmful to children’s cognitive development
and ability to succeed in school, to their social and emotional well-being and to their
health.36 Many factors can affect a child’s potential earning power. It is known, for
example, that chronic stress from growing up poor has a direct impact on a child’s
brain, leaving his/her working memory impaired.37 Nutrition in childhood, as well,
affects learning, growth and development, which in turn affects educational success,
job prospects and future behavioral patterns. In fact, adults who have spent more than
half their childhood in poverty are more likely to be poor as adults.38 Four out of five
fourth graders from low-income families are also not proficient in reading,39 which is a critical indicator for future
success. The failure to help children from low-income families reach this milestone reinforces educational deficiency
and poverty into the next generation.40

8. Lack of Access to Affordable, Quality Childcare

By one estimate, the cost of full-time childcare for an infant or toddler is $580 per month, without subsidies.41 That
equates to nearly 40 percent of the income of a person working a minimum wage job full-time. Reliable care is critical
for working parents, and high-quality care is important for children’s development. For low-income children, it can help
bridge the achievement gap between them and their more affluent peers.42 Families in poverty tend to use friends, family
and neighbor (FFN) care or home-based childcare, more often than other socioeconomic groups.43 Estimates vary by
age, but show that anywhere from one third to one half of all child care is provided by FFN.44 Unfortunately, the quality of
friend-, family- and neighbor-care is highly variable.45 Increasingly, research shows that early childhood education is
essential to promoting future cognitive development. A child who has not sufficiently gained essential cognitive skills by
the age of three46 often cannot make up the deficit, which leads in turn to a perpetuation of the cycle of poverty. However,
low-income children who are given quality early care perform nearly as well as more affluent peers on reading and
mathematics tests taken in the third and fifth grades.47

9. Outliving Resources
Perhaps the least-recognized demographic of poverty is senior citizen representation. Social Security benefits kept 14
million elderly Americans out of poverty in 2009,48 while Medicare ensures that many older Americans have adequate
resources to cover their medical bills. In fact, in 2009, while all other age groups saw
their poverty rates increase, the rate of people 65 and older living at the poverty level
Nearly one in actually decreased to 8.9 percent.49 Despite this success story, 6 million older Ameri-
three Native cans live on the edge of poverty.50 Too often, they must choose between groceries or
Americans is the medicine they need. Seniors’ financial challenges are made worse by a number of
issues including lower retirement savings, rising health care costs and primary wealth
living in tied up in housing, which is inaccessible due to the depressed housing market. Many
poverty, twice older Americans are mitigating these challenges in the short term by delaying retire-
that of the ment and returning to the workforce, but with increasing lifespans and political and
economic uncertainty surrounding the ability of Social Security and Medicare to
general U.S. maintain current levels of support, it may well be that a declining standard of living is
population. inevitable for many senior citizens in years to come.51

10. Lack of Access to Treatment for Addiction and

Mental Illness
Addictions52 and mental illness are often considered root causes of poverty; how-
ever, many people in poverty do not suffer from either an addiction or mental illness.
Nor do all people with substance abuse or mental health issues live in poverty. It is
true, though, that the stresses of living in poverty or being unemployed can result
in substance abuse.53 At least one study on mental health shows that poverty is more
likely to precede mental illness than the reverse.54 On the other hand, it is also known
that risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse create an incapacity to work,
thus increasing unemployment and perpetuating the cycle of poverty.55 Regardless
of cause and effect, effective, accessible and funded treatment for both addictions and
mental illness can disrupt the cycle of poverty. Regrettably, the current system fails
on all fronts. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
estimates that only 1 in 10 Americans are receiving the treatment they need to address
addictions, resulting in a “treatment gap” of approximately 20 million Americans.56 The
same agency reports that 4.8 million Americans are not receiving needed treatment or counseling for mental health prob-
lems with 41.5 percent of those individuals citing inability to afford treatment as the primary obstacle.57

11. Criminal Record

In 2008, 1 in every 31 adults in the United States was either on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole.58 The United
States incarceration rate is the highest is the world.59 Incarceration reduces former inmates’ earnings by 40 percent and
limits their future economic mobility.60 One recent study shows that “imprisonment diminishes the earnings of adult
men, compromises their health, reduces familial resources, contributes to family breakup, and adds to the deficits of poor
children.”61 Additionally, some states bar ex-offenders from public housing and public assistance programs like welfare
and food stamps.62 Without these basic supports, many offenders are at greater risk of homelessness or reoccurrence.
Although offenders are often said to have “done their time”, the consequences of crime can continue for a lifetime.

12. Racial /Cultural Factors

The wealth gap between white and African American families is four times greater now than it was 23 years ago.63 Poverty
among some minority groups is significantly greater than poverty in the general populations. Poverty among young black
children in rural areas is 55.8 percent (45.3 percent in urban areas) and among young Hispanics in rural areas is 40.4
percent (37.3 percent in urban areas).64 As the children grow up in the same poor neighborhoods and regions, the issues
of poverty perpetuate to the next generation. Race and cultural isolation is a foundation for many of the other barriers
faced by people in poverty. This is particularly true for the nation’s Native American population. Native Americans are
often isolated both geographically and culturally, creating a population that is the poorest in the country.65 Nearly one in
three Native Americans is living in poverty, twice that of the general U.S. population.66 Neighborhoods with high percentages
of Black, Hispanics and Native Americans tend to have lower achieving schools,67 higher high school dropout rates,68 more
single mothers,69 higher incarceration rates, less economic opportunity and, thus, more poverty.

13. Inadequate Assets/Asset Traps

Income, savings, and assets help a family move towards, and sustain, self-sufficiency and economic security by providing a
cushion against unexpected changes and setbacks. Assets can make a significant difference to a low-income family —
whether they are intellectual assets like education or training, or physical assets like a home, a savings account, an automobile
or a small business.70 But many federal and state policies actually work against the accumulation of assets that could keep
families teetering on the brink of poverty from falling into the economic abyss. According to leading asset-building advocates,
more than 26 percent of Oregonians do not have even enough of an asset-cushion to last three months if they no longer
had an income.71 Additionally, more than 18 percent do not have any bank account in their name.72 But many federal and
state policies give families few incentives to retain what assets they do have. Too often, individuals and families “teetering
on the brink” must give up what meager assets they may have, such as income, a vehicle, a home or a job, before they can
qualify for assistance that might otherwise stabilize them and allow them to begin the slow process of economic recovery.

People in poverty face any combination of these barriers, and more. This paper does not even touch on the impact of
catastrophic life events—usually medical or unforeseeable loss of employment or retirement savings—which can plunge a
previously economically secure family into poverty overnight. Nor does it touch on the difficult decision faced by victims
of domestic violence who too often must choose between economic security and physical safety.

And even those who manage to earn enough to rise above officially designated poverty,
often struggle with these same issues. While about 1 in 9 in Central Oregonians live Many federal and
below the official poverty line of $22,050 for a family four, nearly twice that many live state policies
below the 200 percent level and struggle each and every day with the potential of being actually work
hurled below the line by circumstances often beyond their control.
against the
Poverty does not simply affect those suffering from it—its outcomes affect us all. In the accumulation of
immediate term, it lowers our income tax base, increases our commitments to social assets that could
services, increases our insurance costs, and strains our nonprofits that are in the trenches
helping our neighbors. keep families
teetering on
In the long term, the cycle of poverty can be callously reinforcing. Those with low
education or skills are likely to earn low wages. Those with low wages are less likely to
the brink of
work, less likely to have insurance or a savings cushion, and more likely to be enmeshed poverty from
in the criminal justice system. While children who grow up in single-parent poor falling into the
families are less likely to complete high school, attend college, or work as teens.73
Without breaking these barriers, the cycle will very likely repeat itself. economic abyss.

We know what creates poverty.

We have the chance to break the cycle.
Let’s not leave the issue of poverty to yet another generation.

So what can you do about it?

RE-EXAMINE – your feelings and assumptions
LEARN – more about the issues
GIVE – to organizations making a difference
VOLUNTEER – to help those who need our help
SPEAK UP – for those who can’t speak for themselves
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Partnership to End Poverty
Partnership to End Poverty is a Central Oregon-based nonprofit organization that raises the profile of poverty and
its impacts on communities while also seeking long-term solutions to this issue. We work with partners from a
variety of sectors on the local, regional, state and national level to break the cycle of poverty. Originally founded by
the Northwest Area Foundation as the Central Oregon Partnership, the organization became autonomous in 2009.
Its offices are in Redmond, Oregon. Find us on Facebook or on the web at www.partnershiptoendpoverty.org.

About the Authors

Sarah Holtzclaw joined The Partnership to End Poverty in as Director of Asset Development and became Director
of Policy and Communications in 2010. She has her MBA from Portland State University and a bachelor’s degree
in communication from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. Scott Cooper joined the Partnership as
Policy Director in 2009 and became Executive Director in 2010.

Additional copies of “Living Within An Obstacle Course” can be obtained by contacting The Partnership’s office.

PO Box 147
521 SW Sith St., Suite 101
Redmond, OR 97756
phone: 541-504-1389; fax: 541-504-1399
email: info@partnershiptoendpoverty.org


February 2011