Cornerstones: Economic Mobility and Belonging in Oregon
There is strong evidence that neighborhood and community factors like racial and economic integration, social capital, employment and high-quality education matter for economic mobility. This section explores how these factors show up in Oregon neighborhoods where low-income children have some of the best and worst chances of breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
For this report, OI used data from the Opportunity Atlas to identify neighborhoods in Oregon where children who grew up in low-income families were most likely to climb the income ladder in adulthood. Conversely, they also identified neighborhoods where children were least likely to climb the income ladder.
To identify high- and low-opportunity areas, they looked for adjacent census tracts (geographic areas defined by the U.S. Census Bureau that contain about 4,000 people). In more rural areas, counties may have only two or three census tracts. In more urban areas, these tracts are closer approximations for neighborhoods.
FIGURE 9 AREAS OF HIGH & LOW OPPORTUNITY IN OREGON Communities with high (blue) and low (orange) levels of opportunity for children in low-income households.
Seven of the 10 high-opportunity communities are in rural Oregon. Similar to county-level research, several of the high-opportunity communities are in northeastern Oregon (see Figure 9). In fact, of the areas identified by OI, children who grew up in low-income families in and around the communities of Wallowa and Elgin have the highest average earnings in adulthood at $44,071 (see Figure 10). There is no consistent pattern in the data for these rural communities that would indicate a potential explanation for why some of the highest-opportunity communities seem to cluster geographically in rural Eastern Oregon.
Across high-opportunity communities, average household incomes range from $37,000 to around $44,000. Children who grew up in these communities, whether urban or rural, earn incomes at about the 50th percentile of the national income distribution on average as adults. In other words, they are close to reaching the middle class. Oregon children who grew up in these high-opportunity communities fared better than two-thirds of their national peers who grew up in low-income families during the same time period.
All of the low-opportunity communities are urban, and 3 of the 5 are in Portland. On average, children who grew up in low-income families in these communities earn between $22,000 and $28,000 in household income, placing them in the bottom one-third of income earners nationally. Comparing these communities to high-opportunity urban neighborhoods, mean household incomes for all residents in 2000 were $10,000 to $60,000 higher in the high-opportunity urban communities.
FIGURE 10 LOW-INCOME CHILDREN WHO GREW UP IN THE HIGHEST-OPPORTUNITY COMMUNITIES EARN UP TO 50% MORE AS ADULTS. Average household income for adults who grew up in low-income households in high (blue) and low (orange) opportunity communities.
NORTH & NORTHEAST PORTLAND
Employment rates and test scores in the high-opportunity communities also tended to be higher than in low-opportunity communities.
Communities of color tend to comprise a larger share of the population in low-opportunity communities. While there are people of color in all of the communities identified by OI, Black and Latino children tend to live in lower-opportunity communities, meaning that racial disparities are further compounded by differences in neighborhoods. For example, communities of color comprise more than half of the population in the Northgate and Lansing neighborhoods of Salem and 44% of the population in the Cully neighborhood of Portland, according to 2010 census data.
In Portland, several of the low-opportunity communities make up the Albina district, which became the heart of the Black community because discriminatory policies like redlining concentrated the population there. Decades of disinvestment, gentrification and displacement compounded the effects of racism and discrimination experienced by residents of color.
The impact of this history is apparent in the OI data: Black children who grew up in these neighborhoods tend to have lower average incomes in adulthood. For example, Black children from low-income families in the Eliot neighborhood earn an average of $21,000 while their white peers earn an average of $32,000.
OI data is just one measure of community vitality; data alone cannot describe the nuances and complexities of Oregon’s communities. All communities have assets to build on, and their history, culture and values can be vibrant regardless of these opportunity metrics. Dedicated individuals and organizations are working to build better communities across our state.
The previous section described what existing research tells us about how school quality, social capital, employment and neighborhood integration are connected to place and opportunity. Looking at key data points for these four factors across the high- and low-opportunity areas, there is no one-size-fits-all explanation for why low-income children fare better in certain Oregon communities. Rather, each community seems to have its own mix of factors that shape opportunity.
Diving deeper into high-opportunity communities will help us better understand the complex picture of how economic mobility differs from community to community, as well as common challenges and strengths. The next section will further explore the opportunity structure in four communities: Beaverton, Bend, Lakeview and Wallowa County.