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The Oregon Prosperity Initiative

​The Oregon Prosperity Initiative is a bold approach to creating a robust, thriving economy by removing barriers to overcoming poverty and empowering citizens to maximize their potential. The Initiative is working to ensure that people who are currently struggling to feed and shelter themselves and their families have access to critical resources. At the same time, it is taking an unprecedented approach to addressing the long-standing, systemic root causes of poverty so that far fewer people fall into its grasp. The Prosperity Initiative is led by First Lady Cylvia Hayes with the full support and participation of Governor Kitzhaber.


The quantitative goals of the Prosperity Initiative include:
• Reducing poverty from its current level of 17.5 percent to below 10 percent by 2020 and below 5 percent by 2025.
• Raising income levels to above the national average by 2020.
• Significantly reducing income inequality by 2025.

But the vision goes far beyond numbers.


Success for the Prosperity Initiative will mean that all Oregonians have comfortable homes and enough to eat. All of our children, regardless of income levels, are getting a first-rate education. People in entry-level jobs have clear, navigable pathways to well-paid positions. Entrepreneurialism and innovation are thriving. Income inequality is shrinking dramatically.

We will be successful when nobody has to experience that uncomfortable helpless feeling of just stepping past a person who doesn’t have enough to eat or a place to sleep. We will have a sense of community and unity, knowing that we took on a bold mission and it is working. We all have enough. We all have dignity. We have dreams and aspirations and the belief that we can achieve them. Oregon is strong and vibrant because we have tapped the vast potential of all our people.  


1)  Meeting Current Needs
Oregon has a tremendous network of food banks and affordable housing facilities. The community organizations serving our low-income citizens are an inspiration and, given the tremendous state budget constraints, their services have never been more important. First Lady Hayes, Governor Kitzhaber and staff are supporting these organizations through the following measures:

• Raising awareness about these critical organizations and how people can support them in communities across
   the state.
• Prioritizing state funds for critical support programs.
• Pursuing expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

2)  Preventing Poverty in the First Place
While we are working to help the people who need help right now, we are also taking innovative actions to address the root causes of poverty and clear away systemic barriers to increasing prosperity.

• Educating people about the crisis and costs of poverty. 

     While the human tragedy of poverty should be obvious, the full economic costs are poorly understood.
     Children growing up in poverty have lower earnings as adults, poorer health and are more likely to be involved in
     crime. Society bears these costs through higher health care, police and incarceration expenditures, and foregone
     economic activity.1 Failing to address hunger costs Oregonians $2.1 billion annually, primarily from health care
     costs associated with poor nutrition and educational losses for kids who are too hungry to concentrate.2 Poverty
     is estimated to cost the U.S. approximately $500 billion annually.3

• Developing strategic partnerships. 

     In order to turn this vision into reality, the Prosperity Initiative must become much broader than a First Lady’s
     project, or even an endeavor of state government. It must also gain the support of, and be shaped by, outside
     partners, rather than the expected and highly committed poverty advocates and low-income service providers. To
     this end, the Prosperity Initiative is actively engaging diverse partners, including the business community,
     American Leadership Forum Senior Fellows Network, agricultural sector, Regional Solutions Teams, state and
     local economic development organizations, local elected officials and community leaders. We are even engaging
     the Federal Reserve. As part of this work, the Oregon Business Council has become strongly engaged, and has
     added the goal of reducing poverty to below 10 percent by 2020 as one of the top three goals of the Oregon
     Business Plan.

• Imbedding poverty reduction strategies into the Ten Year State Budget Plan and the Governor’s education and
  health care transformation initiatives.

     Governor Kitzhaber’s top priorities address poverty’s root causes. Reducing health care costs will mean fewer
     people forced to choose between rent and medical bills, freeing up resources for other issues. Transforming
     public education by strengthening early learning will increase support for at risk families. Kids learn better when
     they've eaten breakfast and slept in a bed the night before. The Ten Year State Budget Plan will, over time,
     become an important tool for understanding the full implications of policy and budget decisions. Each of these
     three endeavors requires an enormous amount of work and is leveraging significant talent and resources.
     Strategically, the Prosperity Initiative is working with these endeavors, imbedding a poverty reduction lens and
     strategies into the development of these transformation efforts.


The Prosperity Initiative is implementing several projects.

• Prosperity Plan Launching Document

     This will be the first comprehensive poverty reduction plan in Oregon state history. As a starting point, the plan
     took all the intended outcomes and recommendations that had been put forward in the Ten Year Budget Plan
     and applied a poverty reduction lens to them. Over the past year a diverse team of public, private, service
     providers, poverty advocates and business representatives have been building a plan that integrates with the
     Governor’s education and health care reforms and provides strategies for reducing criminal justice costs by
     reducing poverty. Likely the two most unconventional and controversial sections will be on the redesign of low
     income services and the jobs, wages, workforce and economic development issues associated with poverty. In
     the Fall of 2013, the plan will be presented as a launching point for a statewide engagement on poverty and

• Opportunity Communities

     Working with renowned poverty expert Donna Beegle, the Prosperity Initiative is implementing a series of
     Prosperity Summits and Opportunity Conferences in communities across Oregon. Through this work, community
     members who are currently not in poverty, sign up and are trained to become Navigators and commit to working
     with community members who are in poverty (known as Neighbors). The Opportunity Conferences serve the
     Neighbors, providing education on the systemic barriers to overcoming poverty and connecting them to

• Kiva Oregon

     Kiva is an international organization that enables people to become investors in low-income entrepreneurs,
     starting with loans as low as $25. Traditionally, Kiva has operated only in developing countries. Recently, Kiva
     established a presence in the United States, including Oregon. Now, Oregonians will be able to invest in
     fellow Oregonians starting with as little as $25. Learn more at zip.kiva.org

• Oregon Solutions Prosperity Project (funding pending)

     Oregon Solutions is a proven approach to convening diverse, sometimes adversarial, stakeholders around
     complex community economic development projects. In this proposed Prosperity Project, two hard-hit Oregon
     communities will be targeted for assistance. Analysis of the poverty characteristics and mapping of community
     assets and opportunities will be conducted. Then the Oregon Solutions process will be applied to working with
     the community to implement strategies to reduce poverty.

• Oregon Prospers

     We are working to get the word out. Visit our new website at www.oregonprospers.org and share with others. Or find us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OregonProspers.  

Martin Luther King once said that if we didn’t talk about race we would have racism. Similarly, poverty will not go away if we ignore it. The Oregon Prosperity Initiative is spotlighting these issues, with a goal of maximizing our potential and making Oregon a more prosperous place to live and do business.

For More Information:

Cylvia Hayes, First Lady of Oregon: 503-373-7489 or mary.e.rowinski@state.or.us
Robert Lee, Prosperity Initiative Coordinator: 503-986-0983



     1. National Center on Family Homelessness. America’s Youngest Outcasts 2010. Needham Heights, MA.
     2. Center for American Progress. Donald S. Shepard, Elizabeth Setren, and Donna Cooper. Hunger in America;
         Suffering We All Pay For. October 2011.
     3. Center for American Progress. Harry Holzer; Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Greg J. Duncan, Jens Ludwig.
         The Economic Costs of Poverty in the United States, Subsequent Effects for Children Growing Up Poor. 2007.


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