Despite Some Progress, Oregon Lawmakers Received Low Grades on Racial Equity
Salem, Oregon. In the midst of celebration for the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, a coalition of community based organizations presented findings from the Oregon Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity. This report card is a multi-issue and multiracial assessment of the 2011 legislative session, evaluating lawmakers commitment to advancing opportunity and closing disparities affecting Oregonians, particularly Oregonians of color.
Communities of color are here today and a significant part of shaping our future. Recent US Census data shows that Oregon’s communities of color have had the fastest growth in the past two decades. In 1990, people of color in Oregon were 9.2%. In 2010, people of color made up 21.5% of Oregon’s population.
“This report is a tool to help legislators better understand Oregon’s changing demographics and how to make racial equity a more intentional and important part of policymaking. We are becoming more politically active and legislators can ignore us at their own risk.” says Francisco Lopez, Executive Director of Causa Oregon, a statewide Latino, immigrant rights coalition.
Oregon’s racial and economic gaps run deep. For example, the 2010 poverty rate for Whites in Oregon was 13.1%. By contrast, it was 23.1% for Native Americans, 28.8% for Latinos, 39% for African Americans and 40.6% for Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders.
“The legislature must understand that Oregon’s future prosperity is linked to our ability to provide fair opportunities and economic stability to all residents. Yet there is a wide gap between white Oregonians and Oregonians of Color. The state legislature must consciously consider equitable racial impacts in future policymaking” says Joseph Santos-Lyons, Coordinator of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO).
“Real solutions to racial disparities exist. Change is possible. We need more legislative leadership.” says Midge Purcell of the Urban League of Portland, another group responsible for producing the report.
The 2011 Oregon Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity evaluates and grades the House and Senate on their support for closing gaps in opportunity by analyzing twenty three pieces of legislation.
1. The Senate received a “C” and the House received a “D”. These grades are serious, and show the need for more collective leadership from lawmakers in addressing racial equity and inclusion.
2. Several equitable measures were proposed and passed.
- One bill developed a health insurance exchange to create a competitive marketplace for health insurance. This bill may decrease the more than 600,000 Oregonians who are without health insurance. People of Color are two to three times more likely to be without health insurance than Whites.
- Another bill will help to divert youth from adult jails and will affect many young Oregonians, but particularly youth of color who are disproportionately impacted by Measure 11. The bill keeps youth in juvenile detention facilities while they await trail, helping to ensure they get age appropriate interventions.
3. Despite positive leadership, the report also highlights missed opportunities for strengthening racial equity in Oregon. Examples:
- Home Loan Modification (SB 827) would have helped homeowners facing foreclosure and addressed the devastating economic impact of unjust and dishonest lending practices that led to Oregon’s foreclosure crisis that hit communities of color particularly hard.
- Tuition Equity (SB 742) Passed in the Senate and died in the House. Tuition equity would have allowed qualified immigrant students to pay in-state rates for tuition and would help an estimated 22% of qualified Latino youth in Oregon.
- Reducing Barriers to Health through Cultural Competency (SB 97) would have reduced barriers to health by improving the training standards for medical professionals around cultural competency. Passed Senate, Failed House.
4. The report makes three recommendations in order to improve Oregon’s approach to racial equity and inclusion.
- Be explicit about addressing racial equity. Based on the persistent racial disparities and changing demographics, it is imperative that the Oregon Legislature pay more explicit attention to racial equity in the policy making process.
- Implement racial equity impact statements. Racial equity impact statements estimate the disparate racial impacts of public policies. They are a useful tool for legislators to take into account racial impacts, including unintended consequences, when crafting policy solutions.
- Disaggregate data for all racial and ethnic groups. During the course of researching this report, clear data gaps emerge for communities of color based on how state, county, and local governments track race and ethnicity. In order to have a clearer understanding of the outcomes of all Oregonians, racial and ethnic data collection and disaggregation must be a part of how Oregon does business.
This report was the product of a working group that included the following organizations:
Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO)
Basic Rights Education Fund
Center for Intercultural Organizing
Partnership for Safety and Justice
Urban League of Portland
Western States Center
To read the full report, click here.