EUGENE, Ore. -- The gap separating the average working family from the wealthy is widening in Oregon.
According to data from the Oregon Department of Revenue, in 1980 the average income of the highest earners was 26 times that of middle-income Oregonians. In 2015, the gap had soared to 126 times that of middle income Oregonians.
Juan Carlos Ordonez, a spokesman for the state's public policy department, said income inequality is the most pressing problem Oregonians face. He said the difference between the amount of money the rich bring home compared to the poor is at an all-time high. He said currently there are nearly 15 to 17 percent of Oregonians living below the poverty line.
Part of the problem, Ordonez said, is that not enough investment has been made in public institutions, such as education, health care, and workforce training.
"Here in Oregon, we see it firsthand with the state of our public schools, " said Ordonez.
Ordonez said it's important for corporations to step up, too.
"Ever since 1990, our state has been facing a state of chronic under-funding," he said. "There are others at play, of course; there's no one single culprit here, but it's an accumulation of factors that have weakened what once used to be a robust and safe middle class."
He said most of middle class today are living paycheck-to-paycheck, due to the high cost of everyday essentials.
Mandie Baucman has been a Eugene resident for 10 years.
"Poverty is everywhere," she said. "I just feel like it's too bad because we're losing the middle class."
She said she used to be a web designer making $60,000 per year. Now she is a yoga therapist and is self-employed. Baucman said she has experienced being on both extremes of income inequality.
"I currently have a [housing} voucher that I haven't been able to use, " she said.
She said she has not been able to use her voucher because she has not found home that she likes and accepts her voucher.
"I've experienced all kinds of things with income inequality," Baucman said.