2017 Economic Check-up: Opportunity and Affordability

January 2018


Opportunity & Affordability

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This category is a reflection of a number of economic measures, including income inequality, commute times, poverty rates and housing costs. One of Portland-metro’s biggest challenges is housing affordability, which threatens continued prosperity and competitiveness throughout the region. Of all the comparator regions, Portland has the most cost-burdened households (those paying more than 30 percent of their income towards rent or a mortgage) and is tied with Seattle with respect to the ratio of median home price to median household income (MHI). At the same time, the share of the population living below the federal poverty line dropped for all comparator regions, with Portland-metro having the third lowest poverty rate. As it relates to income distribution, Portland is more equal than all comparator regions excluding Salt Lake City. While Portland-metro is middle of the pack on most opportunity measures compared with other regions, it stands out as the least affordable for housing.


Regions with less income inequality generally exhibit more economic opportunity and allow for more upward mobility. Portland-metro shows similar levels of income inequality as measured by a gini index, a measure of income dispersion within a region; only Salt Lake City has less inequality. This reflects Portland-metro’s relatively high wages for low-income earners and relatively low wages for high-income earners. See Figure 14. Going forward, Portland’s challenge will be boosting its lackluster per capita income without exacerbating inequality, which requires wage gains across low-, middle- and high-skilled industries. Despite affordability challenges, Portland-metro’s poverty rate decreased between 2010 and 2016, to 10.9 percent, and all comparator region’s fall below the U.S. average of 13.4 percent. See Figure 15.

Of the comparator regions, Portland has the third highest share of people – 41 percent – experiencing commutes greater than 30 minutes, behind Seattle and Nashville, and commute times for all of the comparator regions, including Portland-metro, rank above the U.S. metro average. See Figure 16.

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Housing affordability is a distinct challenge for the Portland-metro region. Portland and Seattle have the largest share of cost-burdened households when looking at all household types, the only two comparator region’s that exceed the U.S. metro average. When broken down by household types, owner-occupied households are slightly more cost-burdened in Seattle, at 29 percent, while renter-occupied households in Portland-metro are most cost-burdened, at 50 percent. See Figure 17. Both Portland-metro and Seattle also stand out when measuring the ratio of median home prices to MHI. See Figure 18. As long as a significant gap exists between the Portland-metro population and the number of housing units, affordability will continue to be a problem, impacting competitiveness, and talent retention and attraction.

(Hover over data points for more information.)