Central Oregon Migration Patterns BEFORE the Onset of the Pandemic

by Damon Runberg

February 11, 2022

Talk about migration and population growth have been all the craze during the pandemic. Bend became a token “Zoom Town” as there was a perception that remote work led to a dramatic increase in population growth. The thought was that as professional and technical workers were “liberated” from the office and allowed to work from home that they began relocating to communities with a high quality of life.

This was true for many places across the U.S., but much less true here in Deschutes County. According to the Portland State University Population Research Center, Deschutes County saw its population grow by a brisk 5.4% from 2019 to 2021. That is fast growth for most normal places, but it is largely consistent with the pace of growth the county was seeing before the pandemic. There was a notable bump in population growth rates in the rural communities around Central Oregon. The growth rate from 2019 to 2021 was up 2.7 percentage points in Crook County and 1.6 percentage points for Jefferson County compared with rates from 2017 to 2019.

Growth rates were largely held in check by housing costs and housing supply that have been notoriously high and low, respectively. That means the nature of who moved to Central Oregon likely shifted over the past several years even if the rate of growth was largely unchanged. Likely more retirees and higher income workers who can afford the higher cost of living.    
We won’t be able to definitively answer any questions about who these folks are who are moving to the region for another year or so. However, the 2019 migration pattern data from the IRS was recently released. This data gives us insight into who was moving here just before the pandemic.

Deschutes County had a net (difference between those moving here versus those leaving) in-migration of 3,855 in 2019. That was a bit of a decline from 2018 when net in-migration was around 4,090. Meanwhile, Crook County saw a net in-migration of 590 in 2019 (+324 in 2018) and Jefferson County saw a net in-migration of 411 in 2019 (+371 in 2018).

It is no surprise that Central Oregon sees more people move here than those who leave. The region is well-known for its growing population driven by migration. The more interesting data from the IRS tax filings is where these migrants are moving from and where those who are leaving are moving to. The elephant in the room is California. Deschutes County netted over 2,000 new residents in both 2018 and 2019 from California, which is more than the second, third, and fourth ranked states combined. Net migration from other parts of Oregon accounted for 914 new residents in 2019 (813 in 2018). As would be expected, Washington came up third with a net of 292 new residents in 2019, a notable decline from 651 in 2018. Perhaps most surprising is the fourth largest net in-migration into Deschutes County are residents from Hawaii.
Deschutes County doesn’t lose residents to many places, but there is consistent net out-migration to both Idaho (-131 in 2019) and Arizona (-147 in 2019). This out-migration is likely being driven by retirees to the desert southwest and those moving to Idaho may be looking for more affordable housing or career opportunities.  

When drilling down into the top counties for net inflow and outflow we see that the vast majority of people who move to Deschutes County come from the Portland Metropolitan area, Southern California, Seattle, and Northern California (Bay area counties). Inversely net out-migration is highest to other Central/ Eastern Oregon communities, Phoenix, and Boise.
It is too soon to know how these patterns have shifted during the pandemic; however, they were very consistent before the onset of the pandemic. There is a good chance that the overall level of migration shifted during the pandemic, but unlikely the origin or destination of migrants was dramatically different. Stay tuned, we will find out at the end of 2022.

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