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Eric Gilstrap, left, his mother, Linda Richardson, and daughter, Shelby Gilstrap, 2, take food baskets to their car with the help of volunteer Eric Wegner, center, in November at the Community Holiday Food Drive at the Benton County Fairgrounds in Corvallis.

Despite positive economic signs in the area, nearly half of the mid-Willamette Valley’s residents are living in poverty or are among the ranks of the working poor, according to a report from the United Way.

Those residents may be unable to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, child care, a cellphone, health care and transportation, or are just one unexpected expense away from losing their home or not being able to pay monthly bills.

In Linn County in 2016, 45 percent of people were in poverty or working poor, while the figure was 42 percent in Benton County, which matched Oregon’s overall level.

“The recession isn’t over for our working families,” said Blake Pang, CEO of the United Way serving Linn, Benton and Lincoln counties, in a news release about the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) Report.

“It’s hard not to notice the longer lines at local food banks, and where we saw emergency needs spike at our basic-needs assistance agencies at the height of the recession, those emergency needs haven’t slowed. They’ve become chronic needs,” Pang said.

The report was designed to highlight families that are above the federal poverty level, but making less than what it takes to survive in the modern economy.

The latest report shows that the level of residents in poverty or working poor has climbed in recent years in Linn County, where the poverty and working poor level was at 40 percent in 2010.

However, the poverty and working poor level in Benton County declined, dropping slightly from 43 percent in 2010.

For 2016, roughly 20 percent of Benton County residents were living in poverty, while 22 percent were working poor, according to the ALICE Report.

In Linn County in 2016, 16 percent of residents were living in poverty, while 33 percent were working poor, the report shows.

From 2010 to 2016, the cost of basic household expenses for a family of four (two adults with one preschooler and one infant) has risen an average of 34 percent across Oregon, according to the report.

Although unemployment in Oregon remains near record lows, 58 percent of all jobs in Oregon paid less than $20 an hour in 2016. An increase in contract jobs and on-demand jobs has created less stability as well, the report states.

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Kyle Odegard can be reached at, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard.


Business Reporter