As 2017 draws to a close, we consider the challenges, hopes and opportunities for the year ahead and we are confronted with the stark reality that Oregon can and must do better for children and families. It is humbling to know that more than 100,000 children in Oregon are living in households with $800 a month or less in income. If nothing changes, these children — and many more in Oregon — are unlikely to escape poverty and its effects during their lifetime.
New research from The Oregon Community Foundation confirms that disparities in Oregon are growing along socioeconomic, racial and geographic lines. The circumstances of one’s birth, where one is born, and longstanding patterns of discrimination determine the life-long opportunities that are available to Oregon’s children. Families face economic stagnation, children face barriers to quality education and neighborhoods are increasingly segregated and isolated. Left unaddressed, this gap in opportunity will cut to the very core of Oregon’s future.
But we can change this trajectory and close the opportunity gap for many of Oregon’s children by supporting economically and racially integrated affordable housing solutions, encouraging community engagement and promoting leadership development. Parenting education and expanded career and technical education opportunities are also part of the solution. We need to invest in education, from quality and affordable childcare and preschool to out-of-school enrichment, mentoring, and access to higher education. These strategies will be most successful when they are led by community members who can best define community assets, problems and potential solutions. When seeking to improve outcomes for low-income communities and communities of color, members of those communities need to play a leadership role in designing feasible and sustainable solutions.
Challenges and assets in each community are varied and there is not one “silver bullet” solution. But we have faith in the real power of Oregon communities to address these challenges because we see examples around the state where communities, donors, volunteers, local government leaders and great nonprofit organizations are addressing these challenges.
As we enter the new year, we challenge Oregon communities to focus on the children whose promise of the American dream is becoming an illusion. Timely solutions will come from committed Oregonians who are willing to organize, collaborate, advocate and invest in families and strategies that renew the promise of the American dream for every Oregon child.