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‘Terrible’: C.O. workers spending close to 60% of income on housing as wages not meeting inflation

(Update: Adding video, comments from Oregon Employment Department)

State economist: 'The average worker in Central Oregon is actually seeing real wage losses.'

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The cost of housing continues to rise in Deschutes County, while wages are not keeping up.

Damon Runberg, the regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department, said this area is one of the worst in the state.

“It is really terrible,” Runberg said Monday. “Like when you look at Bend's numbers, relative to other places.”

In Deschutes County, the average home with a 5.5% 30-year fixed interest rate costs roughly $3,275 a month.

According to Runberg, the average monthly wage in Deschutes County is about $4,940 a month.

This means the average worker is spending 60% of their monthly income to own a house.

“Man, that would, by any other definition, be considered low-wage,” Runberg said. “That’s just how sort of skewed our affordability index is, relative to what local businesses pay workers.”

Runberg said if a person spends 30-40% of their monthly income on housing, they’re considered "housing cost-burdened."

According to an Oregon Economic Analysis, the share of local households in Bend who can afford a 5% down payment on a median-priced home fell by more than half in recent months, from 20% last December to just 9% in June.

Statewide, the cost of rent for units available is well above the amount some Oregonians can afford.

“The average worker can afford a one-bedroom apartment in Bend,” Runberg said. “But that’s about it."

State and local groups have stopped tracking rental data.

However, on, looking at the first 20 listings for a one-bedroom apartment for lease in Bend, the average monthly rent is $1868.75 per month.

The evidence of such challenges can be found easily, on or offline, including a recent discussion thread on Reddit's Bend subreddit entitled, “Bend is forcing me out.”

The user said he makes $20 an hour, working 40 hours a week, and cannot afford his rent’s newest increase.

Theoretically, if someone made $20 an hour full-time, like this Reddit user, they would make $3,200 a month.

With a monthly rent of $1,868, a person would be spending 58% of their monthly income on housing, nearly the same percentage as the “average” employee spends on their mortgage.

Runberg said, “(The cost of) housing has risen faster than those wages, so really un-affordability has remained relatively unchanged for those lower-wage workers.”

Runberg noted in the past year, Oregon wages have increased 6.1%, but inflation has risen by 6.5%.

“Most workers, the average worker in Central Oregon, is actually seeing real wage losses,” Runberg said. 

He said employers that used to rely on bringing in workers from out of the area are struggling, too, because their offered pay is not enough to cover housing costs.

“No longer do we have that sort of in our back pocket that we can expand the labor pool through in-migration, because housing supply is low and it’s incredibly unaffordable,” Runberg said.

Article Topic Follows: Bend

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Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.


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