A Worrying Sign? Eugene Metro Lags in Working-Age Population Growth

by Henry Fields

June 6, 2018

Lane County, along with most regions of Oregon, continues to gain in population. As growing regions think about the economic impact of a larger population, it’s equally important to keep in mind how and which parts of the population is growing.

For example, people aged 25 and older are likely to have completed their education and be participating in the labor force. Growth in this segment directly impacts local workforce availability. Within this group, younger people are still quite likely to move around, and those nearing age 65 are more likely to retire and leave the labor force.

There are seven metro regions in Oregon outside of Portland, and while all have been growing in recent years, they have been doing so at different rates and in different demographic groups. The chart below compares the most recent demographic estimates from the American Community Survey with the previous five-year period for three segments of the working-age population.
Five of the seven metros gained population in the 25 to 64 age group over the five-year period. The graph compares counts of each age cohort in different time periods, which is not the same as tracking migration. Each additional number could represent someone moving into or out of the area, or alternatively someone who stayed put but aged into or out of that age group.

Eugene stands out for a few reasons. Eugene metro (which is Lane County) had the largest numerical decline of the seven metros in the 25 to 64 population, likely due to an aging 45 to 64 population. The Eugene metro area also had the slowest growth rate of the seven in the 25 to 34 cohort, which made it harder to fill the gap left by workers entering their retirement years.*

You might think that Lane County would have a higher number of people ages 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 to begin with, which could give the appearance of slower growth rates. This doesn’t seem to be the case. Albany, Bend, and Salem all had more people in the 25 to 44 age range as a percentage of their total and working-age population in the 2011 estimates, and still experienced faster growth than Eugene during this period.

As Josh Lehner wrote on the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis blog recently, the growth of the younger working population is a “million dollar question” for Lane County. Read his excellent post for further explanation of the impact of demographic trends in our area.

What we can’t say for sure is whether this slow growth is an aberration, or what the reasons are for Lane County’s underperformance if it continues. This analysis doesn’t prove that slow growth in younger groups and declines in the working-age population are a long-term certainty in Lane County, but it’s definitely an issue of importance to the local economy and something to keep an eye on.

* Grants Pass had a faster growth rate, although the difference between the periods wasn’t statistically significant.

 


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