This May Day, think of not just flowers, but of how Oregon’s economy can do better for its workers

Chuck Sheketoff

May Day, for some Americans, is a celebration of spring’s arrival, replete with bright flowers and maypoles. But for many around the world, May 1st is International Worker’s Day. It commemorates the deaths of protestors fighting for an eight-hour workday in Chicago’s Haymarket Square in 1886.

So today is a good day to ask: How is Oregon’s economy doing for workers?

Oregon’s economy is strong. As the Oregon Center for Public Policy’s latest publication shows, Oregon had the nation’s second-fastest growing economy from 2001 to 2015, on a per-capita basis. Only oil-rich North Dakota expanded faster over that period. In that time, Oregon’s economy grew at nearly triple the rate of the national economy. Today, Oregon’s unemployment rate stands at a historic low.

And yet, all is not well for Oregonians. Poverty remains at a higher level than before the Great Recession. In recent years, Oregon has seen a rise in the share of families living in poverty despite having at least one working parent, as well as a sharp increase in the number of families struggling to put food on the table. Economic growth has disproportionately flowed to the very top, as the incomes of the richest of the rich have rebounded to near record highs.

There are ways lawmakers in Oregon can make the economy work better for everyone.

One of the most important things lawmakers can do is to adequately fund the public services that benefit all Oregonians. Investing in education, for example, opens the doors of opportunity for the next generation, while setting the stage for a stronger state economy. Similarly, extending health insurance to all children in Oregon ensures that everyone has a chance to be healthy and succeed in school and life, while creating a more skilled workforce that can strengthen Oregon’s economy.

To accomplish this, Oregon lawmakers must confront the state’s revenue problem with a revenue solution. Oregon faces a $1.6 billion revenue shortfall. Unless lawmakers find the revenue to fill the shortfall, schools and other essential services will suffer, as will all Oregonians who benefit from them.

Addressing the current budget shortfall is not enough. The quality and reach of public services are insufficient for all Oregonians to gain from the state’s economic success. Public schools, for example, have not recovered from the devastating impact of property tax changes in the 1990s. Lawmakers must raise adequate resources to confront the long-term underfunding of public services if Oregon is to become a place that offers everyone a meaningful opportunity to thrive and is a good place for workers on May Days to come.


Oregon Center for Public PolicyChuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

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