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By Brian Stimson of The Skanner News
Published: 15 December 2010

A new report from the Seattle-based Alliance for a Just Society outlines just how few available jobs provide the means to support a family in the Pacific Northwest.

The report says that the recession, which is now technically over, was exceptionally hard on communities of color.

"Having lower incomes and less wealth, people of color have faced the recession with fewer resources to serve as a cushion to them in difficult times," the authors wrote. "Making matters worse, the foreclosure crisis has disproportionately stripped many people of color of their families' major asset, their homes, deepening the already alarming racial wealth divide."

A living wage for a single adult in Oregon is $15.20 per hour. Add a child and you need $22.11 to get by. In a two adult, two child household, with one working adult, a living wage is considered $28.33. If both adults decide to work, they would need to make about $10 more an hour (in total) to afford the childcare that comes with a full-working household.

But if you live in Oregon, or anywhere in the Northwest, there aren't nearly enough living wage jobs being created to sustain a healthy economy. About 52 percent of job openings in Oregon pay less than $15.20 an hour – the living wage for a single adult. Only 16 percent of job openings pay enough to sustain a single adult with two children.

For those living in Multnomah or Clackamas countes, it takes about an extra dollar an hour to make up for the increased cost of living in the metropolitan area. Rural areas generally have lower standards for living wage jobs.

In Washington, things are only slightly better, with 42 percent of openings paying a living wage for a single adult and 24 percent paying enough for a single adult with two children.

There are also more job seekers for these jobs. On average, there are 14 applicants for jobs that pay $15 an hour. There are 43 applicants for jobs paying around $28 an hour – the amount needed to sustain a household with two children.

A recent survey of employers in Oregon reveals a mixed bag for those seeking work. According to the Oregon Employment Department, about a third of employers are expecting to hire workers in the next six months. While it's good news, only 12 percent of the businesses who responded will be expanding their business. Most of the hiring will be simply replacing workers lost through normal turnover. Others will be hiring seasonal workers and some will be rehiring for positions that were cut or furloughed during the recession.

Accompanying the hardship of unemployment is the loss of health insurance.

Some things that the report recommends to solve the problem:

Support the creation of living-wage jobs.

Address the housing crisis.

Promote affordable health care through implementation of health care reform.

Invest in supports for the unemployed and the under-employed.

Increase state revenues.

Ensure corporations make investments, not just profits.

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