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article imageAverage Oregon Joe Outlines Top Portland Issue Special

By Carol Forsloff     Oct 2, 2009 in Politics
Portland, Oregon is labeled a progressive city. But it has its problems in this recession. An average guy named Mike Rushman gives insight into the worries of the working man as Joe the Plumber did in 2008.
The City of Portland is highly touted for going green. It has street cars, high speed mass transit trains, and pristine beauty aided by the emphasis on going green and recycling. But labor struggles and unemployment bring Oregon issues of concern like everywhere else. I decided to ask an average Joe, a fellow who works for the Teamsters, to give me some perspective about the issues facing Portland.
Mike Rushman is one of those regular guys described in magazines and in advertising as the kind you'd really like to have a beer with. Actually I met him casually over a beer as he talked about the city he loves and the worries he declares people have there.
Rushman has lived in Oregon all his life, has been employed 25 years in the trucking/food delivery industry, and tries to keep up to date on what's going on in his hometown.
Oregon has high unemployment. Around the edges of the city, one can see its fraying, with a few more people on the streets than usual panhandling passersby. Men stand at intersections holding placards announcing they will work for whatever someone wants to give while others simply ask for handouts. Portland attracts a variety of folks, those looking for a good life in a clean city, arriving to live and work like people do in cities everywhere, and those looking for adventure. Some go to Portland because they have been told it is an open-hearted, open-minded city, and they want that. The town brings a mix of people, some legally and some illegally to the area. Many of them are Hispanic. Many still struggle with or don't know English, and jobs are frequently advertised that require a worker to be bilingual.
A homegrown union fellow looks at this, the vulnerability of employment that men face every day, and a salary that doesn't permit him to own the average house in his town, and wonders about all that as Rushman talked about it just days ago over a kitchen table in Portland.
“Things are tough,” he said. That was his first response to my question, “What's it like for a guy like you in Portland these days.” After that, Rushman began a near monologue because he had a lot to say.
“The old neighborhoods aren't the same,” he said. “Out where I live my folks bought this house years ago thinking they would retire there comfortably. There were fast food places, grocery stores nearby, and everything they needed. But things have changed a lot. Immigrants moved in, some of them illegal; and many don't speak English nor do they even try. The old Fred Meyers is gone. The restaurants are gone. Crime is bad out near Gresham, and I worry about it. Portland has its problems. Unemployment is one of them; competition for jobs is strong. What has happened is that Hispanic workers are often hired before guys who have lived in the community, and this causes hard feelings.”
Rushman apologizes, “Don't get me wrong. I don't want to sound like a bad guy who doesn't like outsiders and stuff. I try to be nice to everyone. I just think it isn't right for people not to learn English to communicate and for employers to hire workers who come here from outside the country because they can hire them cheaper. It makes things bad for the guys looking for work especially and for guys who are hanging on trying to make a decent living and do their jobs.”
According to Worksource Oregon Labor Department the unemployment rate in Oregon in August 2009 stood at 12.2% which does not include long term unemployment figures nor part time workers. According to Career Builder the average weekly wage in Oregon is $783, which is $40,716 annually. Rushman is right about the unemployment issues. He also presented surprising information to me when he told me he earns less than $19/hour after 25 years with the Teamsters. This places him below the average worker's wage in the State of Oregon. He doesn't qualify for the average home in Southeast Portland and Gresham/Troutdale where prices range from $215,000 to $245,000. Homes in other areas of Portland and surrounding areas cost substantially more.
Joe the Plumber was John McCain's choice to speak for the American worker. This average “Joe” Mike Rushman articulates concerns expressed by a Portland, Oregon fellow that may well represent what many men in Oregon and elsewhere want these days. That's a good home, a crime-free neighborhood and people you can trust. Those are hard to come by, Rushman says, even in Portland, a place he declares is quite special. But the economic problems mean a hardship for the average guy who sometimes feels left out, Rushman implies. The story is about those waiting for the economic turnaround as immigrants take more and more jobs, raising competition for them in a recession. Immigration remains a top concern for the regular guy in a tough economy as fellows like Rushman declare. It makes for a tough situation, he explains as he relates that for him and others it's issue #1 which means jobs.
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