Income Inequality in Oregon Reaches Record High

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Never has the income gap separating Oregon’s very rich from ordinary Oregonians been so wide, according to new analysis by the Oregon Center for Public Policy. This growing imbalance, the research institute noted, undermines the well-being and opportunities of most Oregonians.

“Income inequality is one of Oregon’s greatest challenges,” said OCPP policy analyst Daniel Hauser. “Such extreme income inequality not only limits the ability of working families to get ahead, it also impairs economic growth.”

Analyzing recently released data from the Oregon Department of Revenue, the Center found that in the 2015 tax year, the income of the average member of Oregon’s richest one-tenth of 1 percent — the richest 1 out of every 1,000 Oregonians — was $4.3 million. That was an all-time high even after adjusting for inflation.

But it was not just the total dollars earned by the richest Oregonians that set a new record; it was also in how far the top-one tenth of 1 percent has pulled away from middle-income Oregonians. In 1980, the average income of the highest-earning 1 in 1,000 taxpayers was 26 times that of the Oregonian in the middle of the income ladder. By 2015, it was 126 times larger.

The income of the average member of the top 1 percent — the richest 1 out of every 100 Oregonians with income of at least $389,400 —
also increased in 2015, though it still stood below the all-time high reached before the Great Recession, the Center reported.

Still, the top one percent together earned more income than the bottom half of all Oregonians combined, according to the Center.

While observing that income inequality has been building over the years, Hauser noted a sharp rebound in inequality since the end of the Great Recession. From 2009 to 2015, the average income of the top one-tenth of 1 percent in Oregon increased by about $1.5 million, and the average member of the top 1 percent as a whole saw their income increase by about $160,000. Meanwhile, the typical Oregonian saw a $900 increase.

Hauser called on lawmakers to place addressing income inequality at the top of the agenda. “We need to make big investments in education, health care, and affordable housing to ensure every Oregonian can share in Oregon’s growing economy,” he said. “And to pay for these investments, Oregon needs to ask more from those reaping the greatest profits from our economy, the rich and the corporations helping to drive their growing wealth.”

The Oregon Center for Public Policy (www.ocpp.org) is a non-partisan, nonprofit institute that does in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax and economic issues. The Center’s goal is to improve decision making and generate more opportunities for all Oregonians.

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