Director’s Desk – August 2017

By Janet Byrd

Every year at Neighborhood Partnerships we eagerly anticipate the release of the Prosperity Now Scorecard (formerly known as the Assets and Opportunity Scorecard). And this year, like last year, and the year before that, we find ourselves puzzling over the same Oregon conundrum – how is it that we have in place so many asset building policies but continue to see our communities struggle to build financial stability?

We can celebrate that Oregon provides funding for Individual Development Accounts, allows for prize-linked savings, provides some protections against payday lending, funds homeownership counseling, encourages resident ownership of manufactured home communities, provides supplemental Head Start grants, among many other great policies.

But we can’t sit comfortably in those policy successes when we know that:

  • One in four Oregonians experiences liquid asset poverty – if their income were interrupted through the loss of a job or a medical emergency, they would not be able to survive at the poverty level for more than three months.
  • One in five Oregonians experiences income volatility with large dips and spikes in their take home pay impacting their ability to manage their finances and respond to unexpected expenses.
  • 15 times as many workers of color are unemployed compared to white workers.
  • Fully one half of Oregon renters are cost burdened.
  • Barely a third of Oregon 8th graders are proficient in math and just over a third are proficient in reading.

We are searching to identify root causes – what is it about our policy design or implementation that prevents Oregon from moving the needle on these key measures? How can we do better moving forward? We’ve shared some ideas with you these last several months. One that stands out is the idea of curb-cut policy design – designing policy to benefit the most vulnerable, most disenfranchised, most excluded or ignored members of our community all the while knowing that those benefits will trickle up to serve us all.

That’s why at RE:Conference this year we’ll be talking about client-centered design in program provision and housing. That’s why we plan to hold more Children’s Savings Account focus groups with the communities we most want to reach. We are committed to designing not just “good” policies but impactful policies that improve outcomes for Oregonians. And we hope to inspire our partners across the state to do the same.