Head Out on the Highway: Grant County Commuter Data

by Christopher Rich

September 27, 2019

The thought of commuting to work may conjure images of the Westside’s urban sprawl and life in the big city. However, living in one town and working in another is common among Oregon’s rural workforce as well. The U.S. Census Bureau provides data on workforce commute patterns with its On-The-Map tool. The most recent data reveals that 30 percent of Grant County’s workforce came from outside the county in 2017 while 41 percent of workers living in Grant commuted to jobs in a different county. 

It’s common for workers to commute to or from neighboring counties. Nearly half (48.0%) of Grant County’s inbound commuters in 2017 came from the eight counties that make up its border. Baker and Umatilla Counties tied for the top spot, shipping a combined 22.8 percent of all inbound commuters. Baker and Umatilla each supplied 3.4 percent of Grant’s total workforce (the largest groups from Baker City and Pendleton). Union County supplied 2.7 percent of Grant’s workforce (the largest group from La Grande). Harney County supplied 1.5 percent of the workforce (the largest group from Burns).

The eight neighboring counties served as the destination for just one-fourth of Grant’s outbound commuters. Two-thirds of this group commuted to Baker, Umatilla, and Union counties. Umatilla welcomed 7.0 percent of all outbound commuters from Grant County. For workers who reside in Grant, Umatilla County supplied 2.9 percent of jobs, Union County supplied 2.1 percent of jobs, and Baker County supplied 1.6 percent of jobs. Most of these jobs were in Pendleton, La Grande, and Baker City.
Half of Grant County’s inbound commuters and three-fourths of outbound commuters lived or worked beyond the eight bordering counties in 2017. Roughly 85.0 percent of both categories, however, still lived and worked in Oregon. Deschutes, Klamath, Lane, and Multnomah counties were high on the list of where Grant commuters lived. Multnomah, Washington, and Marion counties were high on the list of where commuters worked. The majority of remaining commuters were tied to Idaho and Washington states. The state of Idaho shipped 7.0 percent of Grant County commuters while receiving just 0.6 percent. The state of Washington shipped 3.7 percent of Grant County commuters while receiving 11.3 percent.

It may be difficult to imagine commuting more than one or two hours for work. For perspective, a La Grande to John Day commute or a Pendleton to John Day commute takes more than two hours. However, commuting is not limited to the arduous daily drive. While On-The-Map commute data doesn’t tell us how commutes occurred or how long commuters stayed for work, several scenarios are possible and likely. Commuters can be full or partial telecommuters, working for a firm outside their county of residence and infrequently making a physical commute. Home based call center employees and outside sales representatives are examples of occupations that fit this scenario. Commuters can commute for extended shifts, short stays, or even seasons, traveling to where the job demand is and returning home when the work is complete. Nurses and physicians are examples of extended shift or short stay occupations. Commuters with either of these occupations could work for a two or three day shift and then return home for three or four days. Forest fire fighters along with certain leisure and hospitality workers are examples of seasonal positions that require extended stays, but might not encourage year-round residence.   

The accompanying table provides some additional points of interest. Grant County exports more workers than the county imports. The largest share of commuters leaving the county earned more than $3,333 a month. The largest share of commuters entering the county earned more than $3,333 a month as well, but this was a tight race with those making $1,250 to $3,333 a month. In addition, the largest share of commuters in either direction were 30 to 54 years old. On-The-Map can provide details not contained in this report or the table, so check out the data tool or drop me a line if you have any questions.

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