CONSUMER JUSTICE: Resources, Emergency Expense, and Right to Repair

Oregonians discuss their experiences as consumers, specifically in relation to ability to afford emergency expenses and right to repair laws.

From October 18-26, 2023, the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center (OVBC) conducted opinion research about issues of consumer justice and consumer rights in Oregon. This survey was conducted in partnership with Oregon Consumer Justice (OCJ) to assist in their mission to advance consumer justice, shape an equitable and inclusive marketplace, and improve Oregonians’ rights as consumers. This memo summarizes key findings.   

For more explanation on how to interact with the data, please scroll to the end of the post.

Summary

  • Oregonians say that legal assistance and education on their rights as consumers would be most helpful in helping them counter unfair treatment. However, those who have experienced unfair or illegal treatment as consumers express a lack of clarity about how having access to legal assistance would have helped in their particular case. This speaks to a lack of understanding around consumer rights, which is further bolstered by the finding that fewer than one-half of Oregonians are confident that they have the information and resources they would need to understand their rights and what they would need to do if they had to go to court over a debt.
  • BIPOC Oregonians express greater anxiety about paying emergency expenses and less confidence about having the information they need to go to court to discharge a debt. Other research has shown that BIPOC individuals experience greater barriers when it comes to accessing legal aid and that BIPOC communities are underrepresented in the legal profession. 

Consumer Rights and Consumer Justice

  • Over the previous 12 months, Oregonians report experiencing unfair and/or illegal treatment most commonly in the following consumer areas (Q1): 
    • Scams/frauds (23%) 
    • Grocery, food, and beverage (e.g., false pricing) (16%) 
    • Debt collection (e.g., late payments going straight to collections, hospital billing practices) (12%) 
    • Telecommunications (phone, internet plans) (12%) 
    • No other forms of unfair and/or illegal treatment reach 10%.  
    • Results are in line with an Oregon Values and Beliefs Center survey conducted in March-April of 2023, which found the same top-four results, with scams/frauds (24%) and grocery, food, and beverage pricing (23%) again leading the pack.  
  • Among respondents who said they had experienced unfair and/or illegal treatment in the previous 12 months as consumers, a plurality (39%) say they are unsure whether having access to legal representation or legal counsel would have helped them resolve or avoid that experience. Only two in ten (21%) said it would have helped (Q2).  
    • BIPOC Oregonians are more likely than whites to say that having access to legal assistance would have helped them with their unfair/illegal treatment (30% vs. 18%). We know from other research that BIPOC individuals experience greater barriers when it comes to accessing legal aid and that BIPOC communities are underrepresented in the legal profession.  
    • Results are largely unchanged from the OVBC survey from March-April 2023, which also showed a plurality of respondents (37%) unsure whether such legal assistance would have helped.  
  • Among a list of consumer resources, Oregonians say legal assistance and consumer rights education would be most helpful to resolve or avoid unfair and/or illegal treatment (Q3).  
    • Legal counsel or services (49%) 
    • Know your rights education and training (46%) 
    • Mobile app to access consumer rights information and resources (38%) 
    • Advocacy opportunities to change/create laws (29%) 
    • Consumer Town Halls on particular topic areas (e.g., car purchasing, data privacy) (15%) 
    • Again, results are consistent with the March-April 2023 OVBC survey, which had free legal counsel/services (54%) and know your rights online education (53%) as the top-two consumer resources.  
  • Among those who say “Know your rights” training would be helpful, seven in ten (69%) prefer online education and training compared to in-person (31%) (Q4). This is perhaps unsurprising given that Oregonians have become much more comfortable with environments like distance learning and remote working in the last few years.  
    • Interestingly, women are more likely than men to prefer online education in this space (77% vs. 58%).  
  • When given the opportunity to provide additional comment about what would make it possible to attend or use know your rights training, most responses center around the ease of accessing trainings, including the following considerations (Q5): 
    • Scheduling and/or timing 
    • Cost and/or cost barriers 
    • Disabilities and medical conditions 
    • Technology barriers 
    • Location 
  • Many comments mention that offering both online and in-person training would be beneficial. 
  • Other topics worth noting included curriculum suggestions, the importance of the ability to ask questions, and materials that are available on-demand, such as recordings, websites, or slide decks.

Emergency Expenses and Debt

  • Faced with an emergency expense of $400, more than half of Oregonians would either find it a challenge to pay the bill (28%) of wouldn’t be able to pay it up front and would need to borrow money or go into debt (26%) to manage the expense (Q26).  
    • 46% say they could pay such an expense without much difficulty. Oregonians over the age of 65 are significantly more likely (71% and higher) to say they can pay such an expense without difficulty compared to those ages 44 and younger (25-31%). Same as whites compared to BIPOC Oregonians (52% vs. 30%).  
    • Perhaps unsurprisingly, higher income and more educated respondents report less difficulty handling such an emergency expense compared to other Oregonians.  

  • Oregonians who say they wouldn’t be able to pay an emergency expense of $400 cite borrowing money from a family member (27%) and selling something they own (27%) as the most likely methods they would use to get the money they need (Q27).  
  • Those who would have difficulty covering an emergency expense were also given the opportunity to comment on how they would cover the cost. Of the 66 people who shared an additional comment, 43 mention having few options available to them (Q27a). 
    • Some mentioned limitations related to credit or income, but 23 said they would be unable to pay for such an expense. 
    • Only two people mention using payday loans to pay for an emergency expense, also the least popular option when Oregonians rank how they would most likely get help covering an emergency cost. 
  • Two in ten (18%) Oregonians report having had wages garnished and/or a bank account frozen to repay a debt. A slightly higher number of three in ten (27%) say they have had a debt collector attempt to collect payment for a debt that wasn’t theirs (Q28-29).  
    • Renters are more likely to have had wages garnished and/or a bank account frozen to repay a debt than homeowners (27% vs. 14%).  
    • The percentage of Oregonians who have had a debt collector attempt to collect payment for a debt that wasn’t theirs is largely even across the major demographic subgroups (gender, ethnicity, region of the state, etc.)   
  • Fewer than one-half (47%) of Oregonians are confident that they have the information and resources they would need to understand their rights and what they would need to do if they had to go to court over a debt (Q30).  \
    • Confidence increases with age, from 34-40% among those ages 18-44 to 62-64% among those ages 65 and older.  
    • Whites express more confidence than BIPOC Oregonians that they have the information and resources they would need (51% vs. 37%).  

Electronic Parts and Repairs

  • Lastly, 70% of Oregonians support legislation that requires technology/equipment manufacturers to make parts, tools, and documents publicly available so consumers can repair products from these manufacturers by themselves, with 46% saying they “strongly” support such legislation (Q31). 
    • Support for such legislation increases with higher income and education levels and is notably higher among whites than BIPOC Oregonians (75% vs. 54%)

  • Based on this data demonstrating Oregonians’ support for legislation that would protect consumers’ rights to repair their own devices, Oregon Consumer Justice advocated to the legislature on behalf of Oregonians, and during the short session in 2024 a “Right to Repair” bill was passed by the legislature and signed into law. The bill will kick in next year (2025), and enforcement begins in 2027. 

Methodology: The online survey consisted of 1,489 Oregon residents ages 18+ and took approximately 15 minutes to complete. Respondents were contacted by using professionally maintained online panels. In gathering responses, a variety of quality control measures were employed, including questionnaire pre-testing, validation, and real-time monitoring of responses. To ensure a representative sample, demographic quotas were set, and the data was weighted by area of the state, gender, age, and education. 

Statement of Limitations: Based on a 95% confidence interval, this survey’s margin of error for the full sample is ±2.54%. Due to rounding or multiple-answer questions, response percentages may not add up to 100%. 

More Information:

Understanding and Interacting with the Data

The question numbers in this document correspond with the accompanying annotated questionnaire and tabs. Due to rounding, the percentages reported below may not add up to 100% or compare exactly to the percentages for the same question in the annotated questionnaire or tabs. 

Included below for selected questions are noteworthy subgroup variations for age, gender, area of the state, BIPOC/white, etc. The accompanying set of tabs notes subgroup variations for all the questions. 

OVBC surveys currently use aggregated data to analyze the opinions of BIPOC residents in comparison to the opinions of residents who identify as white and not another race. BIPOC residents are not a monolith; the grouping represents a wide diversity of races and ethnicities. The findings included in this memo should not be construed such that all people of color are believed to share the same opinions. Disaggregated race data will be provided when sample sizes permit reliability. 

For survey full question wording, all statistically significant subgroup findings, and respondent quotes, readers are encouraged to refer to the accompanying documents: (1) annotated questionnaire, (2) crosstabulations, and (3) verbatim written responses spreadsheet (upon request). 

Acknowledgments

Oregon Consumer Justice: Oregon Consumer Justice is committed to advancing consumer justice, shaping an equitable and inclusive marketplace, and improving Oregonians’ rights as consumers through advocacy, legal support, community engagement, and consumer outreach.

Oregon Values and Beliefs Center (OVBC): This research was completed as a community service by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center. OVBC is an independent and non-partisan organization and an Oregon charitable nonprofit corporation. Representative OVBC projects include opinion research about race-based crimes for the Asian Health and Service Center, as well as research about early childhood education and the cost of childcare for the Children’s Institute.