Head Out on the Highway: Harney County Commuter Data

by Christopher Rich

October 3, 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 just over one-fourth of Harney County’s workforce came from outside the county in 2017 while just over one-third of workers living in Harney commuted to jobs in a different county. 

It’s common for workers to commute to or from neighboring counties. For Harney County, however, just one-fourth of inbound commuters in 2017 came from the five Oregon counties that make up its border. Deschutes County held the top spot, shipping 8.7 percent of all inbound commuters. Deschutes supplied 2.4 percent of Harney’s total workforce (the largest group from Bend). Malheur County supplied 1.6 percent of Harney’s workforce (the majority from unincorporated parts of the county). Crook, Grant, and Lake counties each supplied roughly 1.0 percent of the workforce.

The five neighboring counties served as the destination for just over one-third of Harney’s outbound commuters. The majority of neighboring county commuters went to Deschutes and Malheur counties. Deschutes was the favored destination for commuters, receiving 15.6 percent of all outbound commuters. For workers who reside in Harney County, Deschutes supplied 5.5 percent of jobs (the majority in Bend and Redmond). Malheur County supplied 3.2 percent of jobs (the majority in Ontario). Crook, Grant, and Lake counties supplied 0.9 percent, 1.3 percent, and 1.4 percent of job, respectively.
Three-fourths of Harney County’s inbound commuters and just under two-thirds of outbound commuters lived or worked beyond the five neighboring counties in 2017. More than 80.0 percent of Harney commuters, however, still lived and worked in Oregon. Klamath, Baker, and Multnomah counties were high on the list of where Harney commuters lived. Klamath and Marion counties in Oregon were high on the list of where commuters worked, as was Canyon County, Idaho (part of the Boise Metropolitan Statistical Area). The majority of commuters outside of Oregon were tied to Idaho and California. The state of Idaho shipped 4.9 percent of Harney County commuters while receiving 10.5 percent. The state of California shipped 2.8 percent of Harney County commuters while receiving 3.4 percent.

It may be difficult to imagine commuting more than one or two hours for work. For perspective, a Bend to Burns commute or an Ontario to Burns 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 agriculture 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. Harney County exports more workers than the county imports. The largest share of commuters leaving or entering the county earned from $1,251 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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