Head Out on the Highway: Wallowa County Commuter Data

by Christopher Rich

September 17, 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 Wallowa County’s workforce came from outside the county in 2017 while nearly one-third of workers living in Wallowa commuted to jobs in a different county. 

As might be expected, it’s common for workers to commute to or from neighboring counties. Roughly 40.0 percent of Wallowa County’s inbound commuters came from Baker, Umatilla, and Union counties in 2017. Union County held the top spot among the three, shipping 22.5 percent of inbound commuters. Union County supplied 6.0 percent of Wallowa’s total workforce (mostly from La Grande). Umatilla County supplied 3.0 percent of Wallowa’s workforce (mostly from Pendleton). Baker County supplied 1.7 percent of the workforce (mostly from Baker City).

Baker, Umatilla, and Union counties served as the destination for one-third of Wallowa’s outbound commuters. Union held the top spot here as well, receiving 16.1 percent of outbound commuters. For workers who reside in Wallowa County, Union County supplied 5.0 percent of jobs, Umatilla County supplied 3.5 percent of jobs, and Baker County supplied 1.8 percent of jobs. Most of these jobs were in La Grande, Pendleton, and Baker City.
Most Wallowa County commuters lived or worked beyond Baker, Umatilla, and Union counties in 2017. Roughly three-fourths, however, still lived or worked in Oregon. Multnomah, Clackamas, and Lane counties were high on the list of where Wallowa commuters lived. Multnomah and Deschutes 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. Washington sent 6 percent of Wallowa County commuters while receiving 18 percent. Idaho sent 14 percent of Wallowa County commuters while receiving 7 percent.

It may be difficult to imagine commuting more than one or two hours for work. For perspective, a Baker City to Joseph commute or a Pendleton to Joseph 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 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. Wallowa County exports more workers than the county imports. The largest share of commuters leaving the county earned more than $3,333 a month, while the largest share of commuters entering the county earned between $1,250 and $3,333 a month. And 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.

Our Latest Articles Our Latest Articles

Latest Items