To set the record straight on what it’s like to live with financial hardships, we’re busting four common myths about poverty.
People in poverty aren’t willing to work to get out
It’s a common misconception that people are in poverty because they choose not to work, or that someone with a job can easily work themselves out of poverty. But the numbers show a different story. According to research from the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP), over 70% of poor families are working families, meaning at least one parent is working part- or full-time. Over 75,000 Oregonians are in poverty despite having at least one full-time worker in the household.
“It’s not always a personal choice not to work,” said Jordan*, an 18-year-old welder-fitter who received manufacturing training and career support at Impact NW’s Pathways to Manufacturing program. “A lot of people get stuck in a hole and end up homeless due to debt from something.”
Turmoil ends when you "age out" of the foster care system
Young people who have spent their lives in foster care often struggle when they leave the system. Most emancipated* youth (young adults who “age out” from the foster care system) go out into the world on their own, without any assistance finding housing, financial stability, or emotional support.
For foster children who never find a permanent home and “age out” of the system, there are repercussions on well-being and stability. Studies of youth “aging out” of foster care have shown they are more likely than those in the general population to not finish high school, be unemployed, and be dependent on public assistance. Many find themselves in prison, homeless, or parents at an early age. In fact, experts estimate that 45% of youth leaving foster care become homeless within a year, and over one in four males will be incarcerated at least once.
“It’s tough. People don’t choose to live this way. We’re thrown into a bad situation with no help, love, or support. Programs like Impact really make a difference,” said Erica*, a young woman who spent many of her childhood years in and out of foster care.
Homeless could find housing if they wanted to
According to the 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, more than half of Oregon’s homeless population (a staggering 60%) live in unsheltered conditions. Oregon is one of only four states where more than half of the homeless population is unsheltered, and has the second-highest rate of unsheltered homeless people in the country.
Why are there so many unsheltered homeless people?
“During normal weather conditions—let alone intense rain or snow like Portland saw this month—Portland is extremely under-resourced for homeless shelters/beds,” says RJ Stangland, Housing Program Manager at Impact NW. “Most of Portland’s homeless shelters have rules which burden and limit the accessibility for the homeless.”
homeless families may not want to divide into separate, gender-based shelters;
couples may not want to be split up;
those with pets are not allowed to bring in their animal unless they are service animals;
those who identify as transgender may not be allowed access unless their stated gender matches their ID;
having a sexual offense limits the availability to access shelter, since shelters which offer space for kids/families would violate the offender’s parole
There is also the safety of community—some feel safer staying in “villages” on the street (such as Right 2 Dream Too or Hazelnut Grove) rather than divide up into short term shelter stays spread across the metro area. Location is a crucial variable for not only where one finds oneself homeless, but also where one finds necessary resources for one’s needs.
Programs like Medicare and Social Security mean we don’t have to worry about seniors in poverty
Seniors at our Multicultural Service Center participate in weekly Tai Chi classes.
The myth of most seniors basking in lavish retirements is just that—a myth. The truth is that programs like Social Security and Medicare do not fully account for the costs of living. In fact, according to the Social Security Administration, “Social Security was never intended to be your only source of income when you retire. You also will need other savings, investments, pensions or retirement accounts to make sure you have enough money to live comfortably when you retire.”
However, Social Security is the only source of income for 30% of Oregonians aged 65+. For an additional 31% of Oregonians age 65+, social security makes up 50% to 99% of their income.
At an average yearly benefit of $15,074, Social Security does not account for growing living costs, including housing expenses, medical bills, and more.
But what about Medicare? Does that take care of all medical expenses?
In short, no. The average monthly healthcare cost for a 65-year-old couple is $583, or just shy of $7,000 per year, according to HealthView Services’ 2015 Retirement Health Care Costs Data Report.
Rising costs and low incomes have contributed to the 25% increase of seniors aged 65+ in poverty from 2000 to 2010. All the while, the Portland metro region’s senior population is growing. According to the 2014 Poverty in Multnomah County report, the number of Portlanders aged 65 and older is expected to more than double from 2010 to 2030. And as the region’s senior population grows, the number of seniors in poverty is likely to continue to increase.
*Name has been changed to protect this individual’s identity.