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Oregon’s unprecedented growth

April 9, 2018

By Josh Lehner,
Oregon Office of Economic Analysis

A common refrain our office hears is that Oregon’s growth in recent years is unprecedented. Meaning that we’ve never seen population growth like this before. This is usually in the context of the housing market and explaining away our shortage more as a function of extremely high demand, and less about the supply issues. As such, I think it may be helpful to take a graphical trip down memory lane. The bottom line is that yes, in many places in Oregon, mostly urban, we’re seeing population gains that are better than in the 2000s but on par with the 1970s and the 1990s. Remember, people have been packing up and moving to this part of the world since before Lewis & Clark. Population growth and migration is nothing new. It is ingrained in our community and economy and remains our number one comparative advantage.

Furthermore, in percentage terms, today’s population growth is less than the increases experienced in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1990s. You can see this in the chart below which comes from a previous post looking at population and housing history in Oregon. Adding on a few more decent years of growth to the 2010s doesn’t change this big picture overview.

The statewide trends are largely seen at the regional level as well. Population gains today are generally larger than a decade ago, however not larger in absolute terms or percentage terms than those experienced in the 1970s and 1990s. Oregon has grown significantly faster in our recent past. There is nothing unprecedented by recent population numbers.

Now, there are a few exceptions here; don’t get me wrong. The counties below are adding new residents today about as fast as they ever do. And it’s not just in urban areas either. Additionally, the City of Portland is truly seeing unprecedented increases in its modern history. However, the rest of the Portland MSA certainly is not. I’ll have a bit more on the city versus suburbs thing soon.

I guess at the end of the day, I really just feel like this Spiderman meme.

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