Although the amount of energy devoted to the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake is heartening, I sometimes wish that impulse were operational closer to home. I have always found it fascinating that Oregon’s rural poor, who are poor indeed, never seem to need any help as far as most of the same Oregonians are concerned who leapt so publicly to the help of Haiti, when it became a cause celebre. Perhaps if Oregon’s rural poor had the decency to be more picturesque we’d have plane-loads of doctors rushing in to help. Or perhaps the Haitians, also a conservative rural people, offend liberal sensibilities less because the beliefs they share with their Oregon brethren, but far less with their urban benefactors, are hidden behind a foreign language.
Maybe I’m being too cynical and these Oregonians who’ve found money for donations for, and plane tickets to, Haiti just don’t understand that poverty for most in Oregon doesn’t mean driving a hybrid instead of a full-gas V-8 or living simply that others may simply live. Here are a few facts that might provide a picture of how things are within a 15 mile drive of your solar-powered organic hemp garden and art studio.
- Unemployment in rural Oregon has exceeded 18% in places. That is almost 6% higher than it is statewide. Oregon overall has the second worst rate in the country. National average is 10%.
- Rural Oregon has one of the highest rates of suicide in the United States, 16 in 100,000. National average is 11.1.
- The poverty rate in rural Oregon in 2008 was 15.9%. That’s 3.1% higher than the state’s urban areas, which are at 12.8% National average is 12%.
- Drug-related deaths increased 8 percent in Oregon last year, to 229. Meth use was responsible for the sharpest increase (45 percent) and the second highest number of deaths, 106.
The people of Haiti need your help. But when the coverage of that has died down, remember that your neighbors do too. They, like the Haitians, are a rural people trying to live in a shattered agricultural economy.