Migration Patterns in the Past Five Years

by Jessica Nelson

March 13, 2018

Oregon is an in-migration state. For many years, more people have moved into Oregon each year than have moved out of the state. This population growth fuels the expansion of our cities and brings new brain power to foster the economic engine of Oregon’s future. Workers in some occupational groups are more likely to move than others. Where do these in-migrants come from? And when Oregonians leave, where do they go?

Data from the American Community Survey (ACS) five-year panel (2012-2016) can provide some information about migration characteristics that isn’t available elsewhere. Specifically, we can now look at migration into and out of Oregon by major occupational group.

Oregon Migration by Occupational Group

The largest occupational groups also had the largest net in-migration numbers. The top six occupational groups by net in-migration are in a similar situation – they employ a lot of workers, so their average in-migration during the period accounted for about 2 percent to 3 percent of their labor force. That share is pretty typical; most groups had in-migration numbers ranging from 1 to 4 percent of their estimated 2012 to 2016 labor force.
Another way to look at this data is to think about the flow of people in and out of the state. If you sum up Oregon’s in-migrants and out-migrants by occupation, it’s possible to see where there’s a lot of flow, but since it is in both directions it isn’t captured by the net in-migration numbers. For instance, the 2,196 net in-migration for office and administrative support workers masks the true level of flow – an average of nearly 22,000 office and administrative support workers move in a given year, but we’re gaining only 2,196 more than we’re losing. Another field with high levels of migration flow is in sales and related occupations, where an average of 20,500 workers moved, but those moving in only outnumbered those moving out by about 4,473. Construction trades have about 7,700 workers moving either in or out of Oregon each year, but there the in- and out-flow are fairly close, leaving a net in-migration of fewer than 800 workers each year.

Patterns in Selected States

Oregon shares significant migration flow with all of its neighbors and several other western states. This table doesn’t tell the full story – there was migration flow between Oregon and every other state in the nation between 2012 and 2016. States are included in the table when in-migrants or out-migrants averaged more than 3,000, or when net migration (into Oregon or out of Oregon) exceeded 500 per year.
California was by far the greatest source of net in-migrants to Oregon. An estimated average of 36,200 people moved from California to Oregon each year during the period, while 20,200 moved from Oregon to California – leaving an estimated net in-migration of roughly 16,000 each year. On the other end of the scale, the largest out-migration was to Washington State. Oregon loses about 4,000 more residents to the Evergreen State each year than it gains from that source. Many of them may be chasing lower cost housing right across the Columbia River from Portland.

Caveat on International Destinations

One caveat to using this data series is that out-migration is not captured for international destinations. That means that net in-migration is overstated for an occupational group or geographic area when there has been some migration to other countries, and we have no way to tease that out using these estimates. It is possible that movers to international destinations are concentrated in particular occupations, and if that is the case then these estimates miss the boat to some extent. Let’s put some numbers with this generality: based on ACS data, Oregon’s average net in-migration during the 2012 to 2016 period was 51,100. In comparison, more robust estimates from the Population Research Center at Portland State University show average net in-migration of about 32,500 per year. The discrepancy is attributed to the lack of destination data for international out-migrants.

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