Head Out on the Highway: Malheur County Commuter Data - 2019

by Christopher Rich

January 12, 2022

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 half of Malheur County’s workforce came from outside the county in 2019 while just over one-third of workers living in Malheur commuted to jobs in a different county.

It’s common for workers to commute to or from neighboring counties. Just over two-thirds of Malheur County’s inbound commuters in 2019 came from the eight counties that make up its border. Just 2.6% of inbound commuters, however, came from the three Oregon counties that border Malheur (Baker, Grant, and Harney). On the other hand, the four bordering counties in Idaho (Payette, Canyon, Washington, and Owyhee) shipped 64.4% of all inbound commuters. Payette held the top spot, shipping 43.7% of inbound commuters. Payette County supplied 21.9% of Malheur’s total workforce (largely from Payette city and Fruitland). Canyon County supplied 6.1% of Malheur’s workforce (largely from Nampa and Caldwell). Washington County supplied 3.7% of the workforce (largely from Weiser). Humboldt County, Nevada supplied just two workers.

Payette, Canyon, Washington, and Owyhee counties served as the destination for 43.6% of Malheur’s outbound commuters. Canyon held the top spot here, receiving 20.2% of all outbound commuters. Payette was a close second, receiving 19.2% of all commuters. For workers who reside in Malheur County, Canyon supplied 7.4% of jobs and Payette supplied 7.0% of jobs. Washington County supplied 1.2% of jobs and Owyhee supplied 0.4% of jobs. Workers entering these counties commuted mainly to Nampa, Caldwell, Fruitland, Payette city, and Weiser.
Unlike other Eastern Oregon counties, 83.2% of Malheur’s inbound commuters came from out-of-state in 2019 while 60.4% of the county’s outbound commuters traveled out-of-state. Idaho was the major player supplying just under three-fourths of all inbound commuters and receiving over half of all outbound commuters. Aside from the previously mentioned Idaho counties, Gem and Ada (home to Boise) also played a significant role in supplying workers and jobs. Among Oregon residents, Umatilla, Marion, and Union counties were high on the list of where Malheur commuters lived. Marion, Jackson, and Multnomah counties were high on the list of where commuters worked. Apart from Idaho and Oregon, Washington State shipped 1.2% of Malheur County commuters while receiving 2.8% and California shipped 1.7% of Malheur County commuters while receiving 2.8%.

It may be difficult to imagine commuting more than one or two hours for work, 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. Construction workers on special projects and 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. Malheur County imports 73% more workers than the county exports. The largest share of commuters leaving the county earned from $1,251 to $3,333 a month. The largest share of commuters entering the county earned more than $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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