Oregon population growth by the numbers

In-Migration Fueled Oregon Population Growth in 2012

Population growth recovering from recession lows

by Nick Beleiciks
Oregon Employment Department

The Population Research Center at Portland State University publishes annual population estimates for Oregon and its counties as of July 1. These reports include the broad reasons behind the changes in population. The components of change in an area’s population consist of two parts: net migration into or out of the area; and the natural increase, which is the number of births in the area minus the number of deaths.

Net In-Migration Still Below Historical Levels

Net migration typically leads Oregon’s annual population change, while the natural increase is a relatively smaller and more stable component of population change. Between 1980 and 2012, Oregon’s net migration over the years has ranged from an increase of 63,200 residents to a decrease of 39,500 (Graph 1). During the same period, the natural population increase resulted in more consistent gains of between 11,600 and 20,900 residents per year.

Beginning in 2009, natural increases took the lead by becoming a larger share of Oregon’s population change. The cause was not a new baby boom; there have been fewer births than the preceding year in Oregon each year since 2008. Nor have there been fewer deaths; the number rose slightly each year from 2009 to 2012. Instead, Oregon experienced a large drop in net in-migration. Annual net in-migration tapered off through the Great Recession and sluggish recovery. It slid from 36,100 additional residents in 2007 to just 7,000 in 2010, the lowest level since 1987. Net in-migration remained low in 2011, at 7,500, but the figure nearly doubled in 2012, adding 14,600 residents.

This pattern of slowing population growth during a recession is consistent with past recessions. Falling net in-migration tends to coincide with periods of economic difficulty. In 1982, 1983, and 1986, Oregon experienced the only population declines seen over the last 30 years. Oregon residents left the state in search of better employment opportunities, among other reasons. Oregon’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was above 8 percent every month from April 1980 to July 1986, and even exceeded 10 percent for 27 consecutive months from October 1981 to December 1983.

Oregon saw annual population gains hit low points again around the time of the dot-com bust and the early 2000s recession, when Oregon suffered worse job losses than the nation as a whole.

The most recent recession was housing-led, and drops in home prices kept many people in houses they may otherwise have left to pursue new opportunities. This took place across the nation, causing reduced migration in recent years.

Graph 1

Population growth recovering from recession lows

Metro Areas Gain Most of Net In-Migration

Portland State University also provides county-level population components of change estimates, covering the period from April 2010 to July 2012. During that time, Oregon experienced a net migration gain of 24,200 people. Net migration gains were evenly distributed between metro and non-metro areas (Graph 2). Seventy-eight percent of Oregon residents lived in metropolitan areas during 2012, almost equal to the metro areas’ share of the state’s net in-migration.

For those who are on the move into or within Oregon, the Portland tri-county area was the top destination. Clackamas, Washington, and Multnomah counties had a combined gain of 11,000 people due to net migration. The other two counties that make up the Oregon portion of the Portland metropolitan area are Yamhill and Columbia counties. Factoring them in, Portland accounted for about 49 percent of the statewide net migration gain.

Oregon’s other metropolitan areas also attracted new residents and saw net migration gains. After the three core Portland counties, the Eugene metropolitan area (Lane County) and Bend (Deschutes County) had the fourth and fifth largest net in-migration counts. Overall, the 11 counties that make up Oregon’s six metropolitan areas captured 77 percent of the state’s net migration gain since 2010. The 25 non-metropolitan counties combined for a net migration gain of 5,500 people, or 23 percent of the total.

Graph 2

Metro and non-metro share of 2012 population and net migration

Natural Decreases Offset Migration Gains in Some Areas

Although Oregon’s statewide population increased in 2012, some rural counties have experienced a net decrease in population since 2010 (Figure 1). The five counties with population declines were Crook (-328); Coos (-153); Harney (-107); Curry (-69); and Wheeler (-16). In Sherman County, the population remained level.

Three of these counties – Coos, Curry, and Wheeler – gained residents through net in-migration between 2010 and 2012. However, there were more deaths than births in those counties during that period, leading to a natural decrease. That decrease was larger than the net migration gains for each of these counties, which resulted in overall population losses. In Harney County, nearly all the population loss was due to net out-migration. Both net out-migration and natural decreases led to population decline in Crook County.

Figure 1

Population change by county 2010-2012


Net migration tends to drive Oregon’s population change from one year to the next. Although net in-migration picked up in 2012, it is still near the lowest level seen since the late 1980s. Net migration and natural increase dynamics differ across Oregon’s metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas. Oregon’s metropolitan counties have the majority of the population, and see most of the net migration gains. Despite overall population gains in the state, some rural areas continued to lose population in 2012


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