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Editorial: Judges raises: a good thing

The Bulletin, Aug. 7, on raising judges’ pay:

Among the relatively unnoticed bills to pass out of the Oregon Legislature last month was one that granted raises to the state’s judges, both on the local level and in appellate courts, and that’s a good thing.

Oregon’s judges are among the most poorly paid in the United States, according to the National Center for State Courts, an independent, nonprofit court improvement organization that has been tracking judicial salaries across the country for 30 years.

In fact, pay for Oregon Supreme and Circuit Court judges rank 45th and 46th, respectively, among all states and the District of Columbia. Court of Appeals judges fare slightly better, coming in 36th in the same group. Numbers for the Circuit Court judges have been adjusted for inflation, but without that adjustment, they rank 45th.

Judges do better when compared with lawyers in Oregon. Circuit Court judges make a bit more than the average lawyer in Deschutes County, for example, but substantially less than the average lawyer in Multnomah County. The recently approved raises will give all state judges $5,000 more this year, enough to move them up slightly in the national rankings, and another $5,000 in 2014, still well below the national average.

Obviously, Oregonians don’t want judges who seek the job just because the salaries are high. Rather, we want judges who know the law well, who have integrity, the right temperament — neutral, calm, composed and polite, among other things — and who have experience in the legal system. We want judges who want to serve because they believe in the law, not in the size of the paycheck.

However, to get men and women like that, we must pay them.

Oregonians deserve good judges, and by and large we’ve gotten them. These raises will help to ensure that we continue to get them.

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Albany Democrat- Herald, Aug. 7, on Oregon wages and economic recovery:

Some new numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics highlight the fragility of what’s passing for an economic recovery in Oregon.

The good news is that wages in Linn County rank in the top third of Oregon counties. The county’s average weekly wage for the fourth quarter of 2012 (the most recent quarter for which statistics are available) was $730, good enough for 12th place in Oregon.

But that’s about it for good news on wages.

The bad news is that Linn County’s average weekly wages are $270 under the national average of $1,000.

Put another way: The average worker in Linn County makes 73 percent of what the average U.S. worker brings home.

The big problem here, of course, is that Oregon consistently has ranked below the national average in terms of wages. The average Oregon weekly wage, according to the most recent bureau statistics, was $871 in the fourth quarter of 2012. That places the state 29th in the nation.

In fact, 35 of Oregon’s 36 counties were under that national average of $1,000 a week. Only Washington County, with a weekly average of $1,101, was over the national average. (Benton County ranked No. 3, with an average weekly wage of $918; Multnomah County was No. 2, at $988.)

If you’re curious, Wheeler County is the Oregon county with the lowest wages. Its average weekly wages amounted to $443 — a little better than $23,000 a year.

If you dig a little deeper in the bureau’s statistics, you hit additional bad news for Oregon regarding wages and employment.

For example, even though Oregon wages rose 2.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, that rate of increase was relatively anemic when compared to the national increase of 4.7 percent. In other words, Oregon wages are improving — and that’s good — but at about half the rate of national wages. That’s not so good.

Oregon’s rate of increase in wages, in fact, places it 42nd in the nation. Alabama is doing better. So is Mississippi.

It’s true that Oregon tends to arrive late at recessions and lingers late as well — and these numbers would tend to support that. But a quick look up and down the West Coast suggests that both California (at 7.8 percent) and Washington state (at 4 percent) are faring better than we are in terms of wage growth.

The bottom line here is nothing that you haven’t heard us say before. But it’s worth repeating: The need throughout Oregon for more and better-paying jobs shouldn’t just be a bromide uttered by politicians seeking re-election. It needs to be our top priority — and we need to approach it with real urgency, not just lip service.

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