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Housing issues are among the most pressing problems facing Oregonians and are having an impact on their health, according to the 2019 County Health Rankings Report being released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Fully one-fifth, or 20 percent, of Oregon households are facing severe housing problems, defined as overcrowding, high housing costs or lack of kitchen and plumbing facilities.

The problem is even more acute in Benton County, where 22 percent of households are experiencing severe housing problems. Linn County, at 19 percent, is slightly better off than the state as a whole, but that’s still ahead of the national average of 18 percent.

The report’s authors call attention to the links between housing and health, noting that high housing costs can eat up family budgets for other necessities such as food, medicine and transportation. Statewide, 17 percent of children are living below the poverty line, with 51 percent of them in households that spend more than half their total income to keep a roof over their heads.

Those issues can be exacerbated by race, as well. According to the report, 34 percent of households headed by black residents were saddled with severe housing cost burdens compared to 15 percent of white households.

“The county health rankings demonstrate that where we live, work, play, learn, and age matters to our health," said Dr. Katrina Hedberg, Oregon’s state health officer.

“This report is more confirmation that we have a lot of work to do to ensure everyone in Oregon has a chance to achieve optimal health, and that social factors such as housing, income and education make health inconsistent across our state.”

Overall, Benton County retained its position as one of the healthiest places to live in Oregon while Linn moved up two spots from last year.

Benton County ranked No. 2 in health outcomes for Oregon’s 36 counties, the same as last year, trailing only Washington County. Linn ranked 18th, up from 20th in 2018. Nearby Lincoln County, which is covered by the same coordinated care organization as Linn and Benton, was rated 31st.

Klamath County was rated the least healthy place to live in Oregon. Wheeler County was not included in this year’s rankings.

In general, Benton County residents scored better than their Linn County neighbors on behaviors that affect health.

For instance, people who live in Benton County had lower rates than the state average for adult smoking, adult obesity, physical inactivity and teen births, while Linn residents were at or above the average rates in those categories.

But the reverse is true for rates of excessive drinking and sexually transmitted infections. Benton County was above the state average for those metrics, while Linn County had significantly lower rates.

Both counties ranked high for clinical care, with Benton tops in the state and Linn rated No. 7.

Benton was second in social and economic factors, with high levels of high school graduation (85 percent) and at least some college education (84 percent) and below-average rates of single-parent households (19 percent) and children living in poverty (12 percent).

Linn County was 14th in that category, lagging behind the state average in educational attainment (75 percent high school graduation, 64 percent with some college attendance), single-parent households (33 percent) and children living in poverty (18 percent).

Income inequality, however, was a much bigger problem in Benton County, where household income at the 80th percentile was 5.8 times as high as income at the 20th percentile, the biggest disparity in the state. In Linn County, income at the 80th percentile was 4.1 times as high as earnings at the 20th percentile. The state average was 4.6 times as high, and the national rate was 4.9.

Both counties had less violent crime than the state and nation as a whole, but Benton’s rate was substantially higher than Linn’s — 128 violent crimes reported per 100,000 population versus 112. By comparison, the statewide average was 249 per 100,000 and the national rate was 386.

The annual County Health Rankings Report evaluates counties in all 50 states based on a variety of metrics and then ranks counties within each state. State and national averages are provided for each measurement.

The rankings are determined by length and quality of life, with each of those measures getting equal weight. Among the elements taken into account are premature death, percentage of residents with poor or fair health, average number of poor physical and mental health days, and low birthweight percentages.

Rankings are also provided for health factors, based on weighted scores for health behaviors (including tobacco use, diet and exercise, alcohol and drug use, and sexual activity); accessibility and quality of clinical care; social and economic factors (such as education, employment, income, family and social support, and community safety); and physical environment, as measured by air and water quality, housing and transit.

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Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

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