OSU website tracks Oregon's economic, social and environmental health

February 21, 2014
The town of Moro lies in Oregon's wheat country. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum)
• The town of Moro in Sherman County lies in the midst of Oregon's wheat country. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum)

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The gap between the richest and poorest Oregonians has widened over the past 20 years. On a brighter note, the rates of population and job growth have outpaced the national average.

These tidbits and other data are part of a new website created in part by the Oregon State University Extension Service. The Tracking Oregon's Progress website follows 88 indicators that describe economic, social and environmental progress in each of Oregon's 36 counties from 1990 to 2011.

The Oregon Community Foundation, the OSU Extension Service, OSU's Rural Studies Program, OSU's Valley Libraries and the Institute for Natural Resources worked on the project.

People can visit the website at Tracking Oregon's Progress to download a report. They can also compare conditions and trends throughout the state by creating custom reports. For example, users can view a report and chart that shows that Multnomah County's unemployment rate among Latinos was 10.2 percent between 2007 and 2011 compared with 8.5 percent in rural Oregon in the same years.

The data, which come from the U.S. Census Bureau and a variety of government agencies, are helpful for state legislators, county officials, philanthropists, nonprofit professionals, state agency professionals, educators and businesses, said Bruce Weber, the director of OSU's Rural Studies Program and lead author of the report.

"If you're in a position to make changes that can improve the economy, society or environment, this gives you some idea of where changes need to be made," said Weber, a professor of applied economics in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"It is valuable for the state to have data to look at trends over time across a wide variety of indicators, from environment to education to crime," said Sonia Worcel, research director for the Oregon Community Foundation.

Statewide highlights from the report include the following:

  • For several decades, the numbers of residents and jobs in Oregon have grown faster than the national average. Oregon's share of the nation's population increased from 1.15 percent in 1990 to 1.24 percent in 2011. Its share of the nation's jobs grew from 1.18 percent in 1990 to 1.25 percent in 2011. 
  • Per capita income in Oregon, or total income divided by population, has been dropping relative to the nation since 1990.
  • The unemployment rate in Oregon has risen since 1990, especially for Oregonians of color.  
  • Overall high school graduation rates increased in Oregon between 2010 and 2012, but there are large differences in high school graduation rates across racial and ethnic groups.
  • Oregon adults and teens have been living more healthily and Oregonians have been living longer, but there have been continuing increases in young teen drug use and disparities between racial and ethnic groups in teen pregnancy and low birth-weight babies.   

The site points to some interesting county-level highlights, according to Lena Etuk, a social demographer with the OSU Extension Service and OSU's College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

Gilliam County, for example, has the lowest income inequality between its richest and poorest residents, while Benton County has the highest.

Hood River County stands out as a county with one of the state's highest Latino populations at 30 percent and the highest high school graduation rate of that ethnic group at 76 percent.

Wallowa, Sherman, Wasco, Gilliam, Deschutes, and Columbia counties have the highest rates of prenatal care usage, at 80 percent or more. Morrow and Malheur counties have the lowest rates of prenatal care usage. Less than 60 percent of pregnant women in those two counties are seeing doctors before their babies are born.

Author: Denise Ruttan
Source: Bruce Weber, Lena Etuk