Last year I visited over 100 towns across our state and I spoke with thousands of Oregonians about the challenges we face together. In Mill City, I spoke to a family that owned a coffee shop employing three generations. They loved their work and attracted regular customers, but as a small business they couldn’t afford health insurance. Like too many Oregonians, this family is a hospital visit away from financial hardship.
The numbers paint a bleak picture. The unemployment rate in Oregon just hit 9 percent, the highest it has been in 23 years. In December, over 174,000 Oregonians were without a job. The country’s gross domestic product shrank at the rate of 3.8 percent last quarter, the quickest drop since 1982. Since the recession began, the nation has lost 2.55 million jobs, the most since 1945. Two million Americans are facing foreclosure, including 26,000 Oregonians. These statistics are the legacy of years of missed investments, failed financial policies, weak oversight, and paper-thin regulation of Wall Street.
The economic crisis touches all of us. It isn’t just in the newspaper headlines or on the evening news; it’s on our doorsteps. It affects nurses, lawyers, assembly-line workers, and engineers. It affects anyone saving for retirement and anyone saving for their children’s college education. It affects families who are looking to buy their first home and families who are dealing with foreclosure.
During his inauguration speech, President Obama acknowledged the difficult task of righting our economy and noted that, “what is required of us now is a new era of responsibility.” The only way to respond to this challenge is with bold action. That’s why this week Congress is discussing a recovery package to restore confidence in the economy, create jobs, and invest in future economic growth.
This bill isn’t a quick fix; it’s an investment in America’s future. We’re funding infrastructure projects that will create jobs and save those that are at risk of being lost. We’re going to bolster training programs for green jobs and put Americans to work making our public buildings more energy efficient. The recovery package includes tax cuts to help working families get back on track and assist small businesses in creating jobs.
One of the greatest risks of this economic downturn is the lack of health care coverage for children. Last week the Senate reauthorized funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to provide health coverage to uninsured children. That means that 4 million previously uninsured children will now have health care coverage, including 42,000 in Oregon alone.
In addition to providing essential care to our children, SCHIP also creates and sustains Oregon jobs. A 2007 analysis by Families USA examining similar SCHIP legislation showed that the bill would result in increased business activity, increased wages, and thousands of additional jobs for Oregon families.
These pieces of legislation are just the beginning of efforts to lift the dark economic cloud hanging over the country. I promise to continue working in Washington to restore oversight and accountability to our financial system and assist families hurt by rising unemployment rates and the mortgage crisis.
The road ahead will not be easy, but we can get through these tough times if we put aside partisan differences aside and act quickly. We are taking on this challenge together and I am confident we can work as a nation to restore stability to the financial market and create jobs for American families.