How Oregonians Commute to Work

by Brandon Schrader

November 16, 2021

Getting to and from work is a challenge for many Oregonians. Surveys suggest that commuting is one of our least pleasant chores. Oregonians traveled on average for 24 minutes each way to get to work in 2019, though 6.7% of Oregonians traveled for an hour or more to get to work. The most recent year of available data predates the COVID-19 pandemic, so these figures cover the economy prior to the most recent recession.

The geographies and transportation networks in our communities shape the commuting patterns of more than a million Oregon workers. To understand the workforce of a community, it’s important to understand who is working in your community, but chooses not to live there and vice versa.

Oregonians Working Outside of Oregon

The vast majority (98.1%) of Oregonians work in Oregon. However, in three counties, traveling outside of Oregon is somewhat common: Malheur, Umatilla, and Curry counties. In Malheur County, bordering Idaho in the southeast corner of the state, 19% of the resident workforce leaves Oregon to work. The town of Ontario is less than an hour drive from the Boise region.

In Umatilla County, 15% of the resident workforce leaves Oregon to work. Hermiston, in Umatilla County, is just a 30 minute drive from the Tri-Cities community in Washington State: Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick. At the other end of Oregon, 10% of the workforce living in Curry County, just north of the California border on the coast, work outside of Oregon.

In the Portland region, 25,000 Oregonians work outside of Oregon. The vast majority of those travel across the Columbia River to Clark County in Washington for work. That’s the largest flow of workers living in Oregon to outside the state. For context, that’s about the size of the entire Coos County workforce. However, that 25,000 represents just 3.4% of the workforce living in the Portland area.

Working in Other Counties

Most Oregonians work in the same county that they live in. However, 21% of Oregonians work outside the county they live in. And in a few Oregon counties, about half the workers leave their home to work. Moving half the workforce out – and back into – a community every day puts an unusually large amount of pressure on local transportation systems.

Columbia and Clackamas counties had the largest populations commuting to different counties each day with 71% and 65% of their workforce, respectively. For context, that’s larger than the entire working population living in the Bend metro region. The vast bulk of those commuting workers are traveling to other counties within the Portland region. By contrast, in neighboring Multnomah County only 17.2% of the workers commute outside of the county.
Yamhill, at the edge of the Portland region, has relatively high numbers of commuters with 58%. This is a relatively rural area with smaller populations compared with the rest of the Portland region. Polk County has the majority of its workforce leaving the county to work. West Salem is in Polk County, while the rest of the City of Salem is in Marion County, dividing the second largest city in Oregon between two counties.

Commuters Come to the Cities to Work

Among the eight largest cities in Oregon, seven of them have a majority workforce that resides outside of the city limits. For example, of the 72,424 jobs physically located within the borders of the city of Beaverton, 88% of those jobs are held by people who live outside of Beaverton. Looking around Oregon, that’s a relatively large percentage of commuters coming into Beaverton to work every day. Though Gresham (79%) and Hillsboro (79%) are not far behind Beaverton and it is common for more than half of the workers in any Oregon city to reside outside of the borders of that city.
All of the largest cities in Oregon have 50% or more of their workforce residing outside of the city borders. While Bend had a majority of the workforce living inside the city with 47% during 2016, about half of their workforce in 2019 lived outside of the city. Close behind, 56% of Eugene workers live outside of the Emerald City. Portland, Oregon’s largest city, has an impressive 277,237 workers living outside of Portland’s borders. The remarkable freeway and transit system in Portland is necessary for transporting over a quarter of a million workers in and out of the city on a regular basis.

Working from Home

Many Oregonians travel from one county to another to get to work every day, but some never leave home. In 2019, 6.9% of working Oregonians worked from home. That ratio increased only slightly from 2010 when the figure was 6.1%. It remains to be seen how regularly working at home will be affected by changes put into place to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020; many workers have switched to temporarily working at home, but we don’t know precisely how many, or whether those changes will persist.

While working from home is still relatively rare in our typical business climate, a few communities in Oregon have larger concentrations of home workers. Those communities are most prevalent in rural Central and Eastern Oregon. Two counties stand out for having larger percentages of folks regularly working from home, Deschutes County with 10.9% and Hood River County with 11.4%.


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