Too many Oregonians are struggling to meet basic needs. One in five of our children is not getting enough to eat. Oregon has the highest rates of childhood hunger and homelessness in the nation.
The human tragedy is obvious: less so is the tremendous toll poverty takes on the economy. 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. 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.1 Poverty is estimated to cost the U.S. approximately $500 billion annually.2
To create a robust, thriving economy, we must develop conditions that empower citizens to maximize their potential. Governor Kitzhaber and First Lady Cylvia Hayes are committed to increasing the prosperity of all Oregonians. This requires a two-pronged approach. First, we must ensure that people who are currently struggling to feed and shelter themselves and their families have access to critical resources. At the same time we need to address the long-standing, systemic root causes of poverty.
Meeting Current Needs
Our state 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. The Kitzhaber Administration is supporting these organizations through the following measures:
Raising awareness about these critical organizations and how people can support them in communities across the state.
Convening the Interagency Council on Hunger and Homelessness to address how to improve both the supply and distribution of food and housing to people in need.
Prioritizing state funds for critical support programs.
Preventing Poverty in the First Place
While we are working to help the people who need help right now, we also need to take effective steps to address the root causes of poverty including unemployment, lack of education, mental illness and substance abuse.
The Kitzhaber Administration is taking this issue very seriously. The Governor’s top three priorities all address poverty’s root causes. These include:
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. Their success is key to our prosperity.
Making the state an effective partner in getting the private sector economy going will help more people find living wage jobs.
First Lady Hayes will lead a new Oregon Prosperity Initiative and is overseeing the establishment of a more coordinated and integrated approach to poverty reduction in Oregon. This includes the following:
Imbedding poverty reduction strategies into the Ten Year State Budget Plan and the Early Learning Council.
Engaging the business community in developing entrepreneurial approaches to improving opportunities for people to achieve prosperity.
It is unacceptable that in our state, with its rich natural resources and human ingenuity, so many people are struggling to make ends meet. It is time to turn this around, to maximum our potential and make Oregon a more prosperous place to live and do business.
1. Center for American Progress. Donald S. Shepard, Elizabeth Setren, and Donna Cooper. Hunger in America;
Suffering We All Pay For. October 2011.
2. 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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