Oregon Progress Report: Mixed

Jeff Alworth

Today, the Oregon Progress Board delivered its biennial report of Oregon's health, guaged across a number of indicators.  The news is mixed.  The Board uses trend data for seven categories of Oregon Benchmarks and compares them to data from previous reports: Economy, Education, Civic Engagement, Social Support, Public Safety, Community Development, and Environment.  Things have improved only in community development; in five of the other categories things have remained the same, and things have gotten worse in education.  (Read the Executive Summary or Full Report in .pdf)

Jobs creation was up in the biennium, mostly thanks to 2004's 31,500 jobs.  That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who watched Oregon stay perched atop the unemployment statistics for the past few years.  The bad news is that per capita income, compared to the US average, is dow, and down to levels not seen for 20 years. (Real income is up slightly.) 

There were a few bright spots in education, but mostly things worsened, which will shock no one.  In K-12 schools, the biggest improvement came in third grade math scores.  Other goals in K-12 schools made no progress or progressed slowly.  The report isn't clear about why post-secondary education was scored "worsened"--more adults had high school diplomas and bachelor's degrees.  (But I wonder if this gain is from new arrivals to the state, not a real improvement in the state's performance.)

Civic Engagement
All but two indicators on this dimension were bad, but apparently things were bad in 2003, so they're not worse now.  Oregonians don't understand the revenue structure and volunteerism is decreasing.  Oregon's bond rating was downgraded and support for the arts and library services is poor.  However, election turnout was good and the state grade for goverment management was upgraded.  From the report: "As in 2003, Oregon showed the least progress in the area of civic engagement."  Hey, on the upside, more people are reading BlueOregon, so that's something.

Social Support
When you're the hungriest state in the nation, it's easy to make progress.  We did!--now we're 41st.  Other dimensions are worse.  In 2002, one in seven Oregonians lacked health insurance, and it's up to one in six for 2004.  Overall poverty and child support payments were unchanged. In the realm of health care, teen pregnancy rates are down, as are HIV and smoking rates.  There are improvements in prenatal care, infant mortality, and immunizations.  Yet in all of these measures, progress has been slower than hoped.  In 1993, two-thirds of Oregonians described themselves as being in good health.  This year it's just 55%.

Public Safety
Public safety has the highest percentage of benchmarks making progress.  Overall crime is the same as the last report, but crimes against people are down.  Property crime remains a big problem, where Oregon ranks 48th (third worst).  The picture for juveniles worsened in two areas: property crime is up and more students are armed.  One area--cooperative policing--was so improved that it will be dropped in future reports.  Oregon has also made progress on emergency preparedness.

Community Development
One in three Oregonians get to work without driving their car there alone, and vehicle miles traveled declined 7% from 2000-'03.  However, Oregon has one of the lowest home-ownership rates in the nation, and everyone (renters and owners) pay more for housing than is considered "reasonable" (30% of income).

The air quality is good in Oregon, but carbon monoxide levels are up since 1990.  Other signs point to improvement, as well.  Wetland acres have improved, and 50% of streams have good water quality, up from 28% a decade ago.  More streams met the minimum benchmark for flow levels.  On the other hand, streams and wetlands in decline continued a worsening trend.  Timber harvests on private land is at 100% of sustainable levels.  And, although Oregon leads the way in recycling, solid waste as a total continues to rise. 

Given that we've been hard hit by both economic downturns and political paralysis (not to mention antagonism at the federal level), these are probably as good as could be hoped for.

  • Adam Petkun (unverified)

    regarding higher ed: the state received yet another F last year in The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education's Measuring Up report. there were many well deserved F's handed out, but oregon is 5th from the bottom.

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