Lane County Depends on Migration for Recent Population Growth

by Henry Fields

April 9, 2018

There are two ways to add to local population: natural increase and migration. Natural increase is population growth from births and deaths; if more people died than were born during a period, the number is negative, a “natural decrease.” Net migration subtracts the number who moved out of the area from the number who moved in, leaving a population loss if more people left than arrived.
Like nearly all states, Oregon’s population is growing through natural increase. The state has also long been a destination state for migration: the last year more residents left Oregon than arrived was 1986. In recent years, migration has added more to the state’s population than natural increase, with a split of about 30 percent of growth attributable to natural increase and 70 percent to net migration.

A handful of counties in Oregon, including Lane, are even more reliant on migration as a source of population growth. In new county-level population data from the Census Bureau, six Oregon counties had population growth in both categories, but with migration accounting for more than 80 percent of growth: Clackamas, Clatsop, Deschutes, Jackson, Lane, and Wasco.

What unites these counties? At first glance, not their economies. These more-migration areas had varying levels of job growth over the period between 2010 and 2017, with Deschutes far outpacing state job growth, Clackamas and Jackson about matching it, and Lane, Wasco, and Clatsop experiencing slower job growth. Unsurprisingly, about the same pattern holds for population growth overall.

Demographically, they have a bit more in common. All six have a higher median age than the state as a whole (even though Lane County’s median is pulled down by the large group of young adults attending the University of Oregon). All but Wasco have a population that is a higher percentage non-Hispanic white than the state. Age and ethnicity are two factors that help explain a lower level of natural increase, through an increased number of deaths or lower birth rates.
Though quick growth can put pressure on housing prices and infrastructure, population growth generally brings economic benefits. Oregon’s labor force continues to grow through migration. If for some reason people stop moving to Oregon, the state could feel the impact in slow workforce growth or a decline in demand for goods and services.

The impact of less migration would be most keenly felt in the eight Oregon counties that experienced a natural decline (meaning deaths outnumbered births) but still had population growth through migration to the area, or the two counties that would have experienced greater population losses without in-migration.

For now, the six counties in Lane’s “more-migration” category would still be growing absent new migrants, although at a much slower rate. Still, these six counties are more vulnerable than the state as a whole if they become a less attractive destination for migration.

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