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African refugees and immigrants in Multnomah County face daunting economic odds, new report says
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
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Refugees living in Multnomah County face “dismal” economic prospects and glaring inequities in access to health services, decent housing and educational opportunities, according to a first-of-its kind report released Tuesday.
“It’s a grave story,” said Ann Curry-Stevens, a Portland State University assistant professor, who helped present the 122-page report to county commissioners during a one-hour briefing. “The childhood poverty rates alone are astoundingly awful.”
The report, drawing on a variety of sources, for the first time breaks out economic, health and educational disparities facing African immigrants and refugees in Multnomah County.
“Across the board, there is a huge gap between the African population and the rest of the population,” said Djimet Dogo, manager at Africa House, a Portland-based community center for African refugees. “We are struggling to makes ends meet here in the county.”
The report is a collaboration between the African Immigrant and Refugee Community in Multnomah County Coalition of Communities of Color and Portland State University.
Among some of its findings:
The area’s African population is highly educated, with about 25 percent of its members having attained a graduate or professional degree. However, most of these degrees were earned overseas and recognition of them here is minimal, leading to low incomes and poverty.
More than one in two Africans here live below the poverty line. That’s a significant drop from only three years ago, when those numbers were last run.
Average household income is half of what it is for the typical white household, at $34,584 per year, compared with $53,225.
Although official figures show the county’s African population at about 12,000, systemic under-counting puts the actual figure closer to 18,000.
The unemployment rate for Africans living here is 80 percent higher than for whites, at 13.5 percent compared with seven percent.
Federal regulations, applying to all refugees seeking shelter in the United States, require people to accept the first employment they are offered. As a result, many highly trained professionals end up in menial tasks simply because those were offered first. A variety of factors, ranging from high percentages of African households not having telephones to fears of the government due to abuses by their governments at home, limit African participation in surveys. This, in turn, leads to a significant under-count of the county’s total African refugee and immigrant population.
About six in 10 Africans arriving here come from Somalia, a war-torn republic in east Africa. Similarly, many other Africans fleeing to Multnomah County and elsewhere in the United States are doing so to escape tribal conflicts and bloodshed.
Even those Africans working fulltime still earn about half of what their white counterparts make working fulltime.
The report included a number of recommendations, including calls for improved research practices to get more accurate counts of Africans living in the county and a request that Multnomah County find the resources to hire at least one fulltime health care worker devoted to the needs of Africans.
“We need you to be our advocates,” said Fidelis Wachane, an Africa House board member. “We need you to work with schools to help customize education for the city.”
Commissioner Loretta Smith, noting the new federal health care law set to go into effect January 1, said she wants to bring health officials to Africa House soon to explain how people can sign up for coverage.
Commissioner Deborah Kafoury said reading data outlined in the report was difficult.
“It shows how poorly we are doing,” she said, “and how far we have to go.”
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