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By Dana Tims October 30, 2014

Are Oregonians earning less now than when John Kitzhaber was first elected? PolitiFact Oregon

Rep. Dennis Richardson, in his bid to unseat Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber in Tuesday’s election, has made repeated claims that the state is worse off now than when Kitzhaber was elected in 1994 to his first term.

With Kitzhaber seeking what would be an unprecedented fourth term, Richardson, a Republican from Central Point, is urging voters to consider what he calls the Democratic incumbent’s many failures.

The claim:

During a televised debate before the City Club of Portland on Oct. 10, 2014, Richardson said Oregon’s economy has amounted to one long slump during Kitzhaber’s time in office, especially when it comes to wages.

"Women and men both are making less when you adjust for inflation than when he started," Richardson said.

Are working Oregonians really earning less today than they were in 1995? PolitiFact Oregon checked.

The analysis:

We left telephone and email messages with Richardson’s campaign seeking a source for the claim but didn’t hear back prior to our deadline. We did receive an email from the campaign subsequently and have included its response below.

Next we emailed Nick Beleiciks, an employment economist with the Oregon Employment Department. In a return email, he noted that there is "more than one source for this sort of information and multiple acceptable ways to adjust for inflation."

Beleiciks pointed us to data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau and the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. He used those two sources to compile a list of the annual average monthly earnings of men and women working in Oregon between 1995 and 2013.

Included in this category are full-time and part-time workers covered by Oregon’s unemployment insurance program, Beleiciks wrote. That includes just about everyone except federal employees, the self-employed, some agricultural workers, some students and other jobs not covered by unemployment insurance.

Since Richardson’s claim hinged partly on adjusting wages for inflation, we asked Beleiciks about that, as well. He said three ways are used most often to accomplish this -- an all city average Consumer Price Index for all consumers (the most common); the Portland-Salem area CPI index for all consumers; and the Portland-Salem area CPI index for wage earners and clerical workers.

All showed that both men and women working in 2013 -- the most recent year for which statistics are available -- made more money than their counterparts in 1995.

Women, in fact, have seen larger earnings gains than men.

A woman working in 1995, for instance, made an average of $2,328 a month using the most common way to adjust for inflation. The same woman in 2013 earned $2,853, a gain of $525 per month.

A man, using the same adjustment made $3,883 a month in 1995 compared with $4,207 in 2013. That’s a monthly increase of $324.

The other two methods yielded similar increases.

Richardson’s campaign, in a subsequent email, provided U.S. Census Bureau data showing the Oregon median household income for 1995 as $36,374. The same table for 2013 shows it at $50,036. Using an automatic Inflation Calculator, the campaign contended that the latter figure would have to be six percent higher to remain even for inflation.

We ran those numbers past Beleiciks. The $36,374 figure, he said, is based on the Current Population Survey using data for a single year. He noted that the Census publishes both a not-adjusted estimate (in current dollars) and an inflation-adjusted estimate (using 2013 dollars). The inflation adjusted figures he came up with were %55,375 for 1995 and $56,307 for 2013.

"So the U.S. Census Bureau’s inflation-adjusted estimate of median household income in Oregon increased by $1,100 from 1995 to 2013." It didn’t, in other words, change the final result.

The ruling:

Richardson, in criticizing Kitzhaber’s years as governor, claimed that men and women working in Oregon nearly 20 years ago made more then than they do now adjusted for inflation.

The Richardson campaign did get back to us but, regardless, the information it provided doesn't hold up.

Data from the two federal agencies and the state Employment Department show that both genders make more today, when their wages are adjusted for inflation, than they did when Kitzhaber was first elected in 1995.

We rate the claim False.

Our Sources

Emails from Nick Beleiciks, employment economist, Oregon Employment Department, Oct. 28/29, 2014.

Portland City Club debate between Dennis Richardson and John Kitzhaber, Oct. 10, 2014.

U.S. Census Bureau statistical information.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics information.


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More by Dana Tims

Are Oregonians earning less now than when John Kitzhaber was first elected? PolitiFact Oregon

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