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Income inequality is a hot topic both nationally and in Multnomah County, where Jim Francesconi has made it a central theme in his race against Deborah Kafoury and four other candidates for chair of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.
Using campaign themes of "Moving Forward Together" and "Leaving No One Behind," Francesconi has said he will focus heavily on job creation if elected.
Francesconi’s campaign website describes him as a "champion of workers’ rights" and highlights a jobs plan. It also includes the claim that the county is still recovering from the Great Recession.
"Economic inequality in Multnomah County has a face -- and a name," according to one item. "It has 90,000 faces and names -- the number of county residents who are still unemployed, or underemployed, in the wake of the 2008 Wall Street crash."
Does Multnomah County have 90,000 residents who are unemployed or underemployed? We checked.
We contacted Francesconi’s campaign and asked about the statistic. They sent an email containing several sources, including the annual and quarterly reports of a nonprofit agency that tracks employment data and a link to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics table showing "underutilized" labor for every state.
However, the crux of his claim was contained in a news article that put county unemployment at 91,600 as of March 2013. We checked that by calling Amy Vander Vliet, a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department. Her department is responsible for compiling and publishing the state’s official employment numbers. The correct figure for Multnomah County unemployment at the time Francesconi’s campaign published its claim, she said, is 27,800.
The 91,600 figure, she said, appears to come from a category labeled "Portland Metro" unemployment in a report issued by Worksystems, a nonprofit agency that deals with employment in Multnomah and Washington counties. The greater Portland metro area, for the agency’s reporting purposes, is comprised of seven counties, including Multnomah.
We then checked the campaign’s other sources -- Worksystems’ annual State of the Workforce and its quarterly report, issued in October 2013.
We checked both. The annual report did not mention "underemployment." Vander Vliet verified that.
The quarterly report, which included data through the end of September 2013, said a combined 68,000 people in Washington and Multnomah counties were underemployed as of that time.
Vander Vliet said she could not vouch for the figure because her department doesn’t provide county-by-county information tracking underemployment.
We called Rick McKay, senior project manager at Worksystems, who came up with the 68,000 figure. He said it’s based on a sampling of telephone interviews his agency conducts. "It’s a back-of-the-envelope kind of number," he said. "But it’s somewhere in that neighborhood."
McKay estimated that about 60 percent of the 68,000 underemployed people live in Multnomah County. That would put the figure at 40,800.
Clearly, that number isn’t statistically valid, but if added to the 27,800 people who are unemployed in the county, we get 68,600 people who are either unemployed or underemployed in Multnomah County. That’s considerably shy of the 90,000 figure on Francesconi’s campaign website.
We asked the campaign about the discrepancy and received in reply a spreadsheet showing the number of people living below the federal poverty line in every county in the country. The numbers, taken from federal statistics, put the figure at 136,065 for Multnomah County.
However, those numbers don’t take into account that many of those people, even if at or near the federal poverty level, are employed. In addition, federal poverty statistics have nothing to do with any of the sources the campaign originally provided.
Jim Francesconi, now running for Multnomah County chair, says on his campaign website that 90,000 people in the county are either unemployed or underemployed in the wake of the 2008 Wall Street crash.
His campaign, when asked, pointed to several sources to justify the number. One source, which the campaign could have verified, gave an incorrect figure for the number of unemployed workers in the county.
Another, contrary to what the campaign asserted, made no mention of underemployed workers. A third cited a figure for underemployment, but the person who compiled the figure acknowledged it was an "estimate on an estimate."
Taking that estimate and adding it to the number of unemployed in the county gives us a figure of 68,600 -- a lot, obviously, but far short of the 90,000 listed by Francesconi.
We rate the claim False.
Emails from Jim Francesconi’s Multnomah County commissioner campaign, April 28/29, May 14/15, 2014.
Emails from Amy Vander Vliet, regional economist, Oregon Employment Department, April 29, May 14/15, 2014.
Telephone interview, Rick McKay, senior project manager, Worksystems, May 15, 2014.
Local Area Unemployment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013.
Year-end 2013 report, Worksystems Inc., Portland, Oregon.
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