Central Oregon is one of the most desirable places in the United States to move to now. Unfortunately, this comes with a cost for the locals. Housing in Central Oregon has shot way up over the last few years, and the jobs around here have not caught up with the cost of living, in terms of pay. Even good jobs like St. Charles or Apple & Meta in Prineville do not pay what they should be paying for this area. You can make more money working for a hospital in Medford or Eugene and enjoy a significantly lower cost of living than you would in Bend or the surrounding area.
Let us start with a simple job, like McDonald’s which claims to pay $16.50-$17.50/hr right now. Yes, it is true that they will pay that kind of money. However, McDonald’s usually does not hire people for full time work. Most people who work for McDonald’s will get 1 or 2 3 to 4 hour shifts per week. The only people who get full time hours at McDonald’s are managers.
How about a job with a company that most people native to the Pacific Northwest know and love? Bi-Mart! Bi-Mart STILL pays an average of $14/hr at most stores. In Central Oregon this is simply unaffordable. And if you are working full time, you can forget getting into a low-income apartment unless you have kids or a spouse. Full time minimum wage is too much for a single person to be granted admission to a low-income apartment.
If you are working full time for your money, you should be able to have all your bases covered. Minimum wage is not designed for teenagers in high school, minimum wage was designed for, in fact, being a living wage, that would be adjusted with inflation. It is a terribly sad situation, when having worked at the local grocery store, I have seen nurses from St. Charles using Food Stamps or WIC to keep their kids fed. In what world should a nurse need to use WIC or Food Stamps to keep their kids fed and alive? This is especially evident in Central Oregon, where it is a known fact that St. Charles pays a significant cut below what the average medical practitioner in Oregon makes.
There are solutions to this problem. Affordable workforce housing is something that the city governments and county governments in Central Oregon claim is at the top of their priorities list. However, it does not seem to be the case still. Some solutions to this problem include studying who is running in elections, learning their stances on critical issues like this, and getting out there and VOTING for ALL offices, not just the POTUS and our Senator and Representative. Your Sheriff or County Commissioner is just as much of an important vote as the Governor of Oregon, or the President of the United States. In fact, one could say these are more important votes, as they will have a much closer impact on your day-to-day life than the President or Governor will.
Another solution to this problem could be peacefully protesting/lobbying for workforce housing in front of official government buildings. Protestors DO get noticed if the gathering is big enough. Do NOT let it be a violent protest, but a peaceful protest is permitted under our first amendment rights, and if you utilize it, city councils or county governments will eventually bend to the will of public pressure.
A third solution to this problem is utilizing your right to strike. Under the NLRA, you as an employee of any organization have the right to form a union, and go on a strike, to demand better wages and better benefits from your employer. This is what the St. Charles staff did in early 2021 when the company failed to reach an agreement with the Nurses & Technicians Unions.
If we, the people, utilize some of these solutions, we can bend the government & employers to our will, and force them to put serious effort into developing affordable workforce housing & better pay for the general public. If we continue to ignore this obvious problem all around us, we will eventually be outpriced from our housing by people moving here from other areas of the country, and we will be unable to keep living in the area we are native to, and proud to call home.