For many people, especially Black males, the recession is looking more and more like a depression everyday.
The latest government figures on adult Black men paints a grim picture – about 17 percent are unemployed, compared to about 10 percent of the overall population. In some cities, like Washington D.C., it's more like 35 percent for young Black men.
As unemployment rises, it also contributes to Oregon's rising hunger problem. In the state, about 95,000 households experienced times of hunger, but did not eat because there wasn't enough money for food.
"Oregon's rise in hunger mirrors Oregon's rise in unemployment," said Patti Whitney-Wise, executive director, Oregon Hunger Task Force. "While we are boosting programs and emergency food efforts, wages aren't keeping up with family needs. We need long-term solutions to help families get ahead."
Among those looking for solutions is the Oregon League of Minority Voters. The League, established two years ago, recently launched a multipronged Poverty Campaign.
Executive Director Promise King says the organization is taking the next two years to establish a plan of action to address policies and laws that perpetuate poverty.
"We feel this campaign can bring about awareness of systemic failures and policy review that the equity plan needed to avert this crisis," King told The Skanner.
With 11 percent employment in Oregon, one of the highest rates in the nation,
King hopes to establish awareness and consensus among the state's political leaders for change.
Metro Councilor Robert Liberty says it's no mistake that the Portland region is not awash with concentrations of poverty. An old zoning rule required every city and county within the Urban Growth Boundary to provide land for apartments and other low-income housing.
"Unfortunately, we now seem to be going backward again," Liberty said in a blog post. "Poor minority families are becoming re-segregated, but in new locations like east Portland, Rockwood in Gresham and the unincorporated community of Aloha in Washington County."
The League is pushing for the creation of Metro's Regional Equity Commission, which will pursue policy goals, through land use regulations, to reduce economic and racial segregation.
"The idea behind the regional equity commission with Metro is to look at the urban growth boundary and bring those parameters to create infrastructure equity to give boosts to businesses," King said. "For example, Gresham, Hillsboro and Cornelius are becoming racially segregated cities. How do you ensure they have economic muscle to increase employment and increase liveabliity? When you concentrate poverty in one place, what you get is blight and livability issues."
While Metro's reach is purely within the confines of the Portland metro area, the legislature can influence poverty throughout the state.
The Poverty Campaign is looking to create a Legislative Commission on Poverty in the 2010-2011 legislative session.
"Poverty is beyond hunger and food," King says. "What about housing or liberty threatened by systems, what about civil rights? Families go into poverty because of these inequities. We need a state commission to examine the impact of these inequities."
Although the list of potential partners for the Poverty Campaign is long, King said the Lezak Institute partnership is especially important.
Lack of access to nutritious food is a major problem for the poor. Eating high calorie and nutritionally devoid foods – which are both cheap and plentiful in poor neighborhoods – can lead to chronic health issues related to obesity.
The Sidney Lezak Project held a conference in late August to evaluate how food policy affects the health crisis, leading to the ironic, co-occurring problems of obesity and hunger.
"It looked at the onslaught of junk food in low-income communities," he said.
It's about social responsibility. We're saying, 'what is your social responsibility Mr. Macdonald's, Mr. Burger King? What's your role in that part of the equation?'"
King says it isn't about putting purveyors of junk food out of business.
"They have rights like you have," he said. "We're not trying to kill their business, but we want them as part of the community to play fair."
URBAN LEAGUE'S BLUEPRINT
For the first time in 17 years in 2009, the Urban League of Portland published the State of Black Oregon, which spells out in detail much of the disparity and inequity the OLMV's Poverty Campaign is trying to address. King is using much of the Urban League's work as a jumping off point.
On Dec. 3, the Urban League will holding a symposium that will include many of Oregon's top lawmakers, including Portland Mayor Sam Adams, County Commissioner Jeff Cogan, state Sen. Chip Shields and Rep. Lew Frederick. Other community leaders will also be speaking at the event, which will lay out action plans to build on proven effective ways of reducing the disparities between racial minorities and White Oregonians.
The symposium will be held from 8:30 to 1 p.m. at Portland State University's Smith Memorial Hall, 1825 SW Broadway St. in Portland. To view the full findings of the State of Black Oregon Report, visit www.ulpdx.org