Head Out on the Highway: Union County Commuter Data

by Christopher Rich

November 4, 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 28 percent of Union County’s workforce came from outside the county in 2017 while 30 percent of workers living in Union commuted to jobs in a different county. 

It’s common for workers to commute to or from neighboring counties. Roughly 40.0 percent of Union County’s inbound commuters in 2017 came from the four counties that make up its border. Umatilla County held the top spot, shipping 19.9 percent of all inbound commuters. Umatilla County supplied 5.6 percent of Union’s total workforce (largely from Pendleton and Hermiston). Baker County supplied 3.9 percent of Union’s workforce (largely from Baker City). Grant and Wallowa counties supplied 0.5 percent and 1.3 percent of the workforce, respectively.

The four neighboring counties served as the destination for 39.0 percent of Union’s outbound commuters. Umatilla held the top spot here as well, receiving 20.9 percent of all outbound commuters. For workers who reside in Union County, Umatilla County supplied 6.2 percent of jobs (largely in Pendleton and Hermiston). Baker County supplied 3.4 percent of jobs (largely in Baker City). Grant and Wallowa counties supplied 0.5 percent and 1.5 percent of jobs, respectively.
The majority of Union County commuters lived or worked beyond the four neighboring counties in 2017. At least three-fourths of Union commuters, however, still lived and worked in Oregon. Washington, Marion, and Clackamas counties were high on the list of where Union commuters lived. Multnomah, Malheur, and Marion counties were high on the list of where commuters worked. Benton County, Washington, home to Richland and Kennewick, was also high on the list for work. The majority of commuters outside of Oregon were tied to Washington and Idaho. Washington shipped 9.0 percent of Union County commuters while receiving 14.9 percent. Idaho shipped 6.8 percent of Union County commuters while receiving 5.9 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. 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. Union County exports slightly more workers than the county imports. The largest share of commuters leaving the county earned from $1,250 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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