CORVALLIS, Ore. – The governor’s partner made a stop in Corvallis Tuesday on her campaign to spread the awareness of poverty.
Cylvia Hayes, Governor John Kitzhaber’s girlfriend, addressed the public at the Corvallis Country Club Tuesday morning at a breakfast fundraiser to raise money for Community Outreach, a homeless shelter in town.
Hayes began her speech by sharing her personal struggles as a child. She laughed as she explained how her parents moved from Oklahoma to the Pacific Northwest after her mother left her first husband for his younger brother. The couple was poor, and lived in a “run-down, abandoned structure,” with a thick plastic roof in a rural Washington town.
“For many months, we didn’t have electricity or running water,” Hayes said. “We bathed in Old Man Green’s Pond up the dirt road. And when it got cold, we would shower in the locker room at a community pool.”
Hayes says her poor childhood motivated her to help create opportunities for families to prevent poverty. She proposed a re-invention of the economy, an economy that helps the poor get back on their feet. She says Oregon’s poverty rate is 17 percent, federally defined as a family of four making $23,550 annually.
Hayes says since the economic recession, the public has been talking about needing an economic recovery; but, she says a recovery might not be what the economy needs.
“Our goal shouldn’t be to recover the economy; instead, our goal should be to reinvent it. Recovery has a sense of going back to the way things were. The way things were, weren’t really working for us, even before the onset of the recession. We need to capture that innovative, productive potential of all of us by removing some of the systematic barriers, preventing some of us from moving down that pathway towards prosperity,” Hayes said.
Hayes doesn’t deny that creating new jobs won’t be a tricky process. She says 70 percent of low-income Oregonians live in a family where at least one parent is working.
“We have created a generation of the working poor,” Hayes said. “This isn’t just about employers refusing to pay well, it also has to do with skyrocketing costs of health care that eat into employer profit margins and more fundamentally, it has to do more with us who often demand low-priced consumer goods, who sometimes fail to connect the dots that that often means that we’re paying a low price over here and subsidizing food and housing and basic services for workers who cannot afford to support themselves.”
Hayes says society bears the costs of poverty; explaining that statistics show that people living below the poverty line are more likely to have more medical issues and are more likely to end up in prison, leading to higher health care and incarceration costs for the public.
“I think it’s important to recognize that poverty is a human tragedy, obviously, but it’s also an incredible economic drain,” Hayes said.
Within the last year, Hayes says the Oregon Business Plan has added poverty as a top-3 business goal in the state. She’s taking on her own initiative, the Oregon Prosperity Initiative, to educate the public about poverty.
“Last year Community Outreach delivered over 1,300 food boxes to over 4,000 members of this community,” Hayes said. “They served over 32,000 meals at shelters and provided over 20,000 visits to medical offices.”
Hayes says her initiative is more than just awareness, she wants to emphasize the importance of education and health care reform.
“Education is directly related to economic security and prosperity,” Hayes said.
She says there already is a learning gap among kids who are entering kindergarten, a gap she says is difficult to close.
“Imagine how great Oregon could be if we could fully engage the talent of all of our people, rather than having so many of us just given everything they have to make it through each day,” Hayes said.
More information about her prosperity initiative is available by clicking here. Hayes also encouraged the public to register with Kiva Zip, a program that allows folks to invest in low-income residents looking for work. More information about Kiva Zip is available here.