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Job efforts fail to slow poverty

Report: Valley workers no better off

Economic development efforts in Jackson County over the last decade have largely failed, says a new report by Oregon Action.

Despite millions spent to lure development, the report says social and economic indicators show that the majority of Jackson County residents are not much better off than they were 10 years ago.

The report, titled Shifting to Good Jobs: Rethinking Economic Development in Jackson County, will be presented at a news conference today. The presentation starts at 10 a.m. in the second-floor conference room at 33 N. Central Ave. in Medford.

The report follows another Oregon Action-led effort to promote living wage jobs, jobs that pay enough for people to live without public assistance.

Rich Rohde, head of Oregon Action's local chapter, said the report points to the need for new ways to gauge economic development programs.

We are trying to get out another measurement of success, he said. If you look at the measurements, if you look at unemployment, if you look at wages, if you look at family income, if you look at poverty, these measurements haven't gotten better.

The report argues that while economic development efforts have brought more jobs, they haven't reduced poverty and unemployment rates and haven't kept wages and real earnings from declining.

The agency coordinating much of the Rogue Valley's development efforts is Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. Though the report addresses SOREDI's success, or lack thereof, it has not been shown to SOREDI officials, according to Rohde and Gordon Safley, SOREDI's executive director. Safley wasn't even aware of its existence when reached Wednesday afternoon.

Told of the report's basic findings, Safley disputed the idea that economic development efforts have failed.

We feel very comfortable with the efforts we've made, he said, noting that replacing high-paying timber jobs isn't easy and is a process.

Rohde said the intent of the report is not to attack the efforts of SOREDI or other groups.

It's not designed to be critical of their efforts, Rohde said. It's not calling for an overthrow of the system.

Rather, he said, it's designed to create a better yardstick to measure success.

For instance, the report notes that Jackson County's poverty rate has risen from 12.9 percent in 1990 to 14.9 percent in 1997.

Rohde said those figures support the report's conclusion that efforts haven't helped enough to be deemed successful.

Those funds haven't worked to spread benefits to the whole community, he said.

The report proposes five ways to improve economic development efforts:

Create a career ladder program to help people move from low-wage jobs to higher-paying ones.

Do more to promote small business, especially micro-enterprises with five employees or fewer, through access-to-credit and support programs.

Lower the cost of living, especially housing costs, through programs such as land trusts that create affordable housing.

Pass laws that hold companies that get public funds more accountable for offering living-wage jobs and reinvesting profits in communities.

Enact a countywide ordinance that requires companies that get government contracts to pay employees a living wage.