Head Out on the Highway: Malheur County Commuter Data

by Christopher Rich

November 13, 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 half of Malheur County’s workforce came from outside the county in 2017 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. Roughly 61.0 percent of Malheur County’s inbound commuters in 2017 came from the seven counties that make up its border. Just 2.6 percent 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 58.6 percent of all inbound commuters. Payette held the top spot, shipping 38.8 percent of inbound commuters. Payette County supplied 20.7 percent of Malheur’s total workforce (largely from Payette city and Fruitland). Canyon County supplied 6.1 percent of Malheur’s workforce (largely from Nampa and Caldwell). Washington County supplied 4.1 percent of the workforce (largely from Weiser).

Payette, Canyon, and Washington counties served as the destination for 41.0 percent of Malheur’s outbound commuters. Canyon held the top spot here, receiving 19.3 percent of outbound commuters. Payette was a close second, receiving 19.1 percent of commuters. For workers who reside in Malheur County, Canyon and Payette each supplied roughly 6.9 percent of jobs while Washington County supplied 0.9 percent of jobs. Jobs were found largely in Nampa, Caldwell, Fruitland, Payette city, and Weiser.
Unlike other Eastern Oregon counties, more than three-fourths of Malheur’s inbound commuters came from out-of-state in 2017. Nearly 60.0 percent of the county’s outbound commuters traveled out-of-state. Idaho was the major player, supplying more than two-thirds of all inbound commuters and receiving half of all outbound commuters. Among Oregon residents, Umatilla, Washington, and Multnomah counties were high on the list of where Malheur commuters lived. Jackson, Marion, and Lane counties were high on the list of where commuters worked. Aside from Idaho and Oregon, Washington State shipped 2.5 percent of Malheur County commuters while receiving 3.4 percent. California shipped 1.9 percent of Malheur County commuters while receiving 3.2 percent.

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 twice as many workers as 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 from $1,251 to $3,333 a month, but this was a tight race with those making 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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