Opinon: Policy backed by budgets will build Portland's inclusive economy
Since the pandemic started more than a year ago, the disparity and inequity of our economy has been made evident.
Nationally, of course, but also especially here in Portland. In April 2020, under-resourced small business owners and vulnerable gig economy workers were left unprepared for a statewide lockdown. Many didn't survive for the eventual reopening efforts. While there is a light at end of the tunnel as more people become vaccinated and cases continue to trend downward in our state, small businesses, along with their employees, are operating on a limited basis and experiencing limited revenue growth while going deeper into debt.
When aptly funded, policy grounded in racial justice not only benefits local economies now, but also bolsters the next generation, generating access to success and allowing it to build. Urban, suburban and rural economies alike are benefactors today, but communities of color most especially can be impacted. Now, our city most needs new policies that drive this equitable growth, alongside appropriately funded investments well into the future. Policies not backed by budget do not have impact. When the possibility of altering the generational path toward a more inclusive economy and away from poverty are at stake, budget and investing in people matter.
Oregon's history has perpetuated practices that are actually obstacles to access to capital. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 62.4% of housing units in Oregon are owner-occupied. Not everyone who is a business owner or entrepreneur is a homeowner. Without access to personal resources, such as a home equity line of credit or a banking relationship supported by liquid assets, many small business owners continue to be severely impacted and left even further behind. There needs to be access to alternative sources for good debt rather than bad debt (personal credit cards as bootstrapping, for example) as financial capital for shoring up founder net worth and business equity.
The Black Lives Matter civil movement that took place not only in Portland, but in cities worldwide, resonated a clear and loud call that policy must be intentionally written for improving the lives of Black people, rather than excluding them from self-determination. From protests to the pandemic, to every natural disaster and political upheaval encountered in the past year, now is not only the time to affect systemic policy change; it is long past due. Listening to these voices by enacting policy through sufficient investments is imperative for the future stability and recovery of our economy. The next generation, whose (members) themselves are already more ethnically diverse, depends on that real change.
Steps to restore and repair economic inequities are currently under way at the state government. As an example, a bill has been introduced relating to economic opportunity and access to capital. It is being reviewed by the House Committee on Economic Recovery and Prosperity among other bills introduced for stabilizing the statewide economy. While the specifics are under development, this concept focuses on policy change for Oregonians who experience systemic economic disadvantages in business creation, access to traditional capital and wealth creation.
In addition to legislative policy, industries and businesses have their opportunity to create a more inclusive economic policy. In recent months, particularly since the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, to name just a few, many companies have introspectively assessed their role in pervading racist practices and lack of diversity. Some responded with written statements prompted by the BLM movement, publicly declaring a commitment to change former social norms. The actions that follow from this time forward will be measured by purchasing decisions to buy from businesses owned by Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), and various historically marginalized communities, in addition to improving workplace culture.
Real, measurable opportunities opened and promoted to employees of diverse backgrounds will be a metric illustrating company investment in racial justice, and these all contribute to a more inclusive economy. It's not just about who owns the business, but who works there and in what positions of influence.
The devastation we've witnessed this past year is a catalyst for state and Portland officials to set in motion the deconstruction of barriers in all industries. We've now seen the very worst that can happen, and how many incredible small businesses were lost. This is all in addition to a long history of systemic injustices that greatly prevent BIPOC community members from starting and growing their businesses and passing them down generations.
Post-pandemic life is an opportunity to achieve financial stability and resiliency — to strategically position Portland so that it creates opportunities for a more diverse economic ecosystem. While policies are an important place to start this challenging work, real financial investments in those policies is how we actually invest in that written commitment.
With the American Rescue Plan recently signed into law, our state has a critical opportunity to use these recovery funds to invest in our own people and their businesses to build and safeguard a more inclusive economy for the future.
Jan Mason is an associate principal at Mackenzie and a volunteer for the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce of Oregon.
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