In Our View: Cheers & Jeers

Clark County continues to see job gains; Senate per diem hike reflects disconnect

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Cheers: The latest report suggests that Clark County has enjoyed solid jobs gains over the past 12 months, with the area adding 4,700 jobs for a 3.5 percent increase. Year-over-year analysis shows an increase in all employment sectors other than manufacturing.

That is good news for everybody, although the economic recovery remains tenuous. The long-term unemployed continue to struggle in the Vancouver area as well as elsewhere, and this region isn’t yet experiencing the boom taking place in the Puget Sound area. But a growth in jobs is better than a decline, and Clark County is building momentum that hopefully can be sustained.

Jeers: The Senate Facilities and Operations Committee has voted to increase the per diem received by state senators when the Legislature is in session. The daily stipend will go from $90 to $120 as decided by a 4-3 margin, with Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, voting in favor of the increase.

Benton noted that the per diem hasn’t been increased in 10 years, and that his vote was designed to help ensure a citizen legislature rather than limiting the body to only the wealthy. There is some logic behind that, but Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, who said she will not accept the additional $30 per day, provided the appropriate retort: “I think this decision seems to reflect a disconnect between some senators and the people they say they represent. … We’re closing down parks, and yet, we can pay ourselves more?”

Cheers: Well, we think this qualifies for cheers, although there’s still room for improvement. According to a national report, Clark County ranks as the 10th-healthiest among Washington’s 39 counties.

The rankings are based upon 29 factors that affect health, but Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County Public Health director and health officer, warns against placing too much significance on the numbers. Specifically, we still have too many adults who are obese, too many who smoke, and too few who exercise regularly. Local numbers in those categories are in line with the rest of the state, but they could be much better. Still, we suppose there are 29 counties out there that wish their residents were as healthy as those in Clark County.

Jeers: A report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, an advocacy group, suggests that housing in Clark County is unaffordable for a large segment of the citizenry. About 34 percent of Clark County residents live in rental housing, and the NLIHC has determined that about half of those renters are paying more for housing than what is considered “affordable.” The federal government says rent is affordable if it, plus utilities, is no more than 30 percent of a renter’s gross income.

Affordable housing always is an issue, and it plays an important role in breaking a cycle of poverty for many people. “Rents have recently risen faster than incomes here in Clark County,” said Lyn Ayers, president of the Clark County Rental Association. Over time, the market can correct itself; developers and landlords will price apartments at a level that people can afford. Let’s hope that happens, as affordable housing is crucial to strengthening the middle class.

Cheers: U.S. Navy ships reportedly will return to Portland’s Rose Festival this summer, setting up shop along the seawall of the Willamette River and presenting a visual spectacle for the region’s largest festival. Last year, because of the federal government’s sequestration cuts, the ships eschewed their traditional trip to Portland. But officials have confirmed that two Navy ships — along with representatives from the Royal Canadian Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard — will make it feel like the Rose Festival again.