Get to Work! How Oregonians Commute to Work

by Christian Kaylor

March 14, 2018

Getting to and from work is a challenge for many Oregonians. Surveys suggest that commuting is one of our least pleasant chores. Oregonians travel on average for 24 minutes each way to get to work, though 7 percent of Oregonians travel for an hour or more to get to work. The geographies and transportation networks in our communities shape the commuting patterns of more than a million Oregon workers. To understand the workforce of a community, it’s important to understand who is working in your community, but chooses not to live there and vice versa.

Oregonians Working Outside of Oregon

The vast majority of Oregonians work in Oregon. However, in three counties, traveling outside of Oregon is somewhat common: Malheur, Umatilla, and Curry counties. In Malheur County, bordering Idaho in the southeast corner of the state, 16 percent of the resident workforce leaves Oregon to work. The town of Ontario is less than an hour drive from the Boise region.

In Umatilla County, 11 percent of the resident workforce leaves Oregon to work. Hermiston, in Umatilla county, is just a 30 minute drive from the Tri-Cities community in Washington State: Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick. At the other end of Oregon, 9 percent of the workforce living in Curry County, just north of the California border on the coast, work outside of Oregon.

In the Portland region, 23,000 Oregonians work outside of Oregon. The vast majority of those travel across the Columbia River to Clark County in Washington for work. That’s the largest flow of workers living in Oregon to outside the state. For context, that’s about the size of the entire Coos County workforce. However, that 23,000 represents just 3 percent of the workforce living in the Portland area.

Working in Other Counties

Most Oregonians work in the same county that they live in. However, 20 percent of Oregonians work outside the county they live in. And in a few Oregon counties, about half the workers leave their home to work. Moving half the workforce out – and back into - a community every day puts an unusually large amount of pressure on local transportation systems.
Clackamas County has the largest population leaving the county to work every day, with 91,000 workers. That’s 48 percent of the workers living in Clackamas County. For context, that’s larger than the entire working population living in the Bend metro region. The vast bulk of those commuting workers are traveling to other counties within the Portland region. By contrast, in neighboring Multnomah County only 18 percent of the workers commute outside of the county.

Two smaller counties at the edge of the Portland region have relatively high numbers of commuters. Columbia County (49%) at the northern end of the Portland region and Yamhill County (35%) at the southwest edge. These are both rural economies with relatively smaller populations compared with the rest of the Portland region. Polk County has the majority of its workforce leaving the county to work. West Salem is in Polk County, while the rest of the City of Salem is in Marion County, dividing the second largest city in Oregon between two counties.

Commuters Come to the Cities to Work

Among the eight largest cities in Oregon, seven of them have a majority workforce that resides outside of the city limits. For example, of the 70,746 jobs physically located within the borders of the city of Beaverton, 87 percent of those jobs are held by people who live outside of Beaverton. Looking around Oregon, that’s a relatively large percentage of commuters coming into Beaverton to work every day. Though Gresham (78%) and Hillsboro (78%) are not far behind Beaverton and it is common for more than half of the workers in any Oregon city to reside outside of the borders of that city.
Of the largest cities in Oregon, only Bend has a majority of the workforce living inside the city with 47 percent of the workers residing outside of Bend. Close behind, 55 percent of Eugene workers live outside of the Emerald City. Portland, Oregon’s largest city, has an impressive 249,664 workers living outside of Portland’s borders. The remarkable freeway and transit system in Portland is necessary for transporting about a quarter of a million workers in and out of the city on a regular basis.

Working From Home

Many Oregonians travel from one county to another to get to work every day, but some never leave home. In 2016, 6.6 percent of working Oregonians worked from home. That ratio increased only slightly from 10 years earlier when the figure was 6 percent.

While working from home is still relatively rare, a few communities in Oregon have larger concentrations of home workers. Those communities are most prevalent in rural Central and Eastern Oregon. Two counties stand out for having larger percentages of folks working from home, Deschutes County with 9.5 percent and Hood River County with 10 percent.


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