Opinion
March 01, 2019

When Oregon Businesses Get Involved, No Child is Left Behind and the State prospers

By: Sonia Worcel
Chief Community Impact Officer

When children lack access to opportunity, these gaps widen over an Oregonian’s lifetime — with serious implications for our economy and well-being.

Oregon’s economy has been on a long, remarkable run. According to the state’s Office of Economic Analysis, Oregon median incomes are at a historic high — reaching levels we haven’t seen since the 1980s. More Oregonians are employed full time, and household incomes continue to rise.

And yet, these gains are not spread equitably. For tens of thousands of Oregon kids, where you are born, your family’s economic circumstances, and your race or ethnicity — is a more reliable indicator of those kids’ success or failure than a growing economy.

Today, despite the growing economy, half of Oregon’s kids are born into low-income families, and most of them will stay poor. In fact, in most Oregon counties, less than half of kids born into low-income families will ever reach middle class.

Too many kids are coming up against what we at Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) refer to as the “Opportunity Gap”— lack of access to stable housing, quality education, support systems and connections to people from different socioeconomic backgrounds that provide a foundation for kids to learn more, gain new skills, achieve optimal health and get needed experiences to succeed over the long-term.

This kind of poverty is not just damaging to kids and their families. It’s bad for all of us.

When children lack access to opportunity, these gaps widen over an Oregonian’s lifetime — with serious implications for our economy and well-being. When kids fall behind in school, they are more likely to drop out in the future. When dropout rates remain high, then Oregon companies struggle to find skilled workers they need to fill jobs.

When businesses can’t grow — particularly those businesses that are vital to small and rural communities — tax revenues decline, reducing our ability to invest in schools and quality education. The result is a self-reinforcing downward spiral that impacts the well-being of our cities and towns, rural areas and ultimately, the state.

The good news: in some places, strategic investment in key areas mixed with the input of innovative local leaders is bridging Oregon’s opportunity gap. One key ingredient to these successes? Community engagement.

A newly released OCF report, "Tracking Oregon’s Progress (TOP): Oregonians Mobilizing for Change,” highlights community building blocks throughout the state that demonstrate where and how community-led problem-solving is delivering tangible results. 

For example, in Ontario, Oregon Latino-led nonprofit Euvalcree creates community cohesion while developing meaningful opportunities for Latino community members to engage civically. The organization hosts culturally-responsive events, trainings, workshops, and implements projects and advocacy efforts to encourage ongoing involvement while motivating community members to pursue civic leadership roles.

At OCF, we convene local leaders, governments and nonprofits to work together and invest in community-driven solutions that work. Our statewide reach affords an opportunity to scale solutions from one community to another facing similar challenges, leveraging what we’ve learned.

Whether we are supporting collaboratively-created affordable housing, providing parents with support and education to help them raise healthy kids and keep them healthy, fostering small businesses in rural areas or getting more kids into early childhood education, Oregon Community Foundation is focused on creating more opportunity for communities across our state.

That’s because in our 45 years of helping donors improve the lives of Oregonians, we have learned that lifting local voices gets us the solutions that work. We’ll continue to do this work with businesses, nonprofits, governments and most importantly people across Oregon, ensuring that no matter where in our state a child is born, their path to a successful life is clear.