From The (Medford) Mail-Tribune
As we recover from a day of feasting, let’s pause and consider this news: During the three-year period of 2013-15, Oregon led the nation in the increase in food insecurity, with nearly one in six households not certain it would be able to put food on the table.
While metro Oregon has seen a great recovery from the Great Recession, that’s not necessarily true in rural Oregon. According to a report from the Oregon Center for Public Policy (www.ocpp.org), food insecurity rose 18.4 percent in Oregon by 2015, compared with the early years of the recovery (2010-12). Nationally, food insecurity declined by 6.8 percent over the same period.
According to the report, that increase pushed Oregon to the dubious rankings of sixth-worst nationally for food insecurity and eighth-worst for hunger. The number of Oregonians considered food insecure totaled 605,000, more than the entire population of Portland (602,000). The number of children in those ranks totaled 210,000.
The OCPP study comes as the state continues to report declining unemployment and many businesses report difficulty in filling vacancies. That is not the incongruity it would appear, but rather a reflection of a rural workforce that never found its footing after blue-collar, natural resource dependent jobs largely dried up.
What exists now is a mismatch of people in need of decent-paying jobs and decent-paying jobs in need of people. The missing connectors are adequate skill levels, training and a Portland-centric state government that has largely looked the other way as the gap between urban and rural Oregon continues to grow.
When rural Oregonians said, “We need a reasonably reliable supply of timber to keep our mills running,” Salem responded with plans to expand high-speed internet to rural communities. That’s great, if you have the skills and are able to hire, and keep, skilled employees in small farming communities. For the most part, it’s simply not a good fit.
Parts of Central and Southern Oregon have benefited from tourism, but the service-oriented jobs that come with that industry do little to help the standard of living. The Rogue Valley, with its mild climate, is a retiree magnet, boosting another sector of the economy mostly associated with low-paying jobs.
The Oregon Legislature will convene in a couple of months and no doubt will promptly take up a looming funding crisis as its first priority. Rather than trying to fill that revenue-spending gap entirely with increased taxes, perhaps our leaders could instead look about the state — all of the state — and see what they can do to fill part of that gap by helping rural areas rebuild their employment base with jobs that match the workforce. That would put revenue in the state coffers — and food on the tables.