Yaneth Ortiz, 21, of Talent stays home with her 2-year-old son, Alexander, because the family can’t afford day care. Her husband, Gerardo Garcia, is a cook at Applebee’s restaurant in Medford. Their other son Alexis, 4, is in school. The family has a hard time making ends meet. Jim Craven 12/21/2007 - Jim Craven

Meeting the cost of living

For Yaneth Ortiz, making ends meet is a regular challenge that never quite happens.

The 21-year-old Talent resident is married with two young boys, Alexander, 2, and Alexis, 4. She says her husband, Gerardo Garcia, who is a cook at Applebee's, sometimes has to work two jobs, from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m., to pay the bills. She can pick up a few days working at the reception desk of a local motel for $8 an hour if things get tight.

The couple, legal U.S. residents, both of whom were born in Mexico, live in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom trailer with their children.

She said they receive food stamps, and can only afford health insurance for the children.

They're still paying off a year-old $3,000 dental bill for her husband's teeth, but she hopes to have that paid off by summer.

Keeping growing children in clothing and shoes sometimes means the parents forgo new clothing for themselves.

A family in their situation should be making $23.11 hourly to meet the living wage.

"There aren't a lot of jobs here for people to get paid that much," she said, adding that she's fortunate because she's lived in the United States 13 years and speaks English well. If people don't know English, then only minimum wage jobs ($7.80 per hour in Oregon) such as pear packer and dishwasher are available, she said. She said she knows Hispanic people who have a lot of skills, but because they can't communicate well in English, they end up stuck in minimum wage jobs.

The Talent family is not unusual.

Up to 85 percent of jobs in the Rogue Valley are not paying a living wage, and for Latino workers, the situation's even worse, according to "The Race for Wages: Living Wage Jobs in the Current Economy."

The report, released this week, highlights the role that race plays in the employment system. Released by Oregon Action, the report is the latest in a series of studies from the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations that studies the job gap.

"There are still levels of discrimination," said Rich Rohde, Rogue Valley organizer for Oregon Action.

A living wage allows families to meet basic needs without public assistance, and provides them some ability to deal with emergencies and plan ahead. It is not a poverty wage.

Kathy Keesee, community organizer with UNETE, a local farm-worker advocacy group, said 8 percent of Jackson County's population is made up of Latinos who are legal residents. She said she sees a lot of workers who don't make enough to cover housing, food and health care necessities.

"A $10 an hour job is basically what you get around here," she said. "It's partly a language issue, and partly there are no training programs."

Keesee said in addition to having no health insurance, many Latinos she knows end up in living quarters that take a toll on their health.

"A variety of medical bills I would attribute to substandard housing," she said, adding that conditions such as upper respiratory problems, asthma and ear infections crop up due to insufficient heating and ventilation as well as mold problems. "The places where they can afford the rent, they're not in really good condition."

Rohde said looking at the trends over the past six or seven years, the number of living wage jobs for one worker has actually increased. But, he said, it's gotten worse for what it takes to raise a family. The first thing to go with families that struggle with a living wage is health care, then food, then education and housing.

The report shows that in Jackson and Josephine counties only 15 percent of the jobs in the region pay a wage that would support a single parent with two children, and only 39 percent pay enough for a working adult in a dual income family to contribute his or her half of the cost of living.

But for people of color, the odds are even tougher, according to the report: Statewide, 77 percent of Latino workers earn less than a living wage, compared to 40 percent of white workers for the same household size.

Rohde said universal health care, more affordable housing, and expanding education opportunities are among the solutions to the living wage problem.

Keesee added one key to change is a comprehensive immigration reform, so undocumented residents that live in the area could be on the path to citizenship and be eligible for higher education.

"There needs to be other types of training," she said.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail

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