Migration Patterns in the Past Five Years

by Jessica Nelson

August 18, 2020

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 (2014-2018) 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 have the largest net in-migration numbers. The top 10 occupational groups by net in-migration include seven of the top 10 groups by total employment size in Oregon. These occupations employ a lot of workers, so it isn’t surprising that many of the people moving to Oregon are working in these types of jobs. Smaller occupation groups tend to have lower levels of net in-migration.

Across occupation groups, net in-migration numbers typically account for between 1 percent and 4 percent of the groups’ estimated 2014 to 2018 labor force. At the low end, with net in-migration averaging about 1 percent of total employment, are occupations like construction and extraction; building and grounds cleaning and maintenance; protective service; and office and administrative support. Occupations with a more sizeable net in-migration impact (averaging about 4 percent of statewide employment) include food preparation and serving; farming, fishing, and forestry; and life, physical, and social science. 

Military occupations are an exception to the overall pattern. Oregon doesn’t have much in the way of military employment, so for those occupations Oregon has seen a recent average of more than 1,200 moving away from the state and just 400 moving into the state, meaning net out-migration of almost 800 per year. It’s the only occupational group where more people are leaving Oregon than are moving in.
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 1,874 net in-migration for office and administrative support workers masks the true level of flow – an average of nearly 20,000 office and administrative support workers move in a given year, but we’re gaining only 1,874 more than we’re losing. Another field with high levels of migration flow is in sales and related occupations, where an average of 20,100 workers moved, but those moving in only outnumbered those moving out by about 4,995. Construction and extraction trades have about 7,200 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 400 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 2014 and 2018. 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 42,600 people moved from California to Oregon each year during the period, while 20,800 moved from Oregon to California – leaving an estimated net in-migration of roughly 21,800 each year. On the other end of the scale, the largest out-migration was to Washington State. Oregon loses about 5,900 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 2014 to 2018 period was 55,400. In comparison, more robust estimates from the Population Research Center at Portland State University show average net in-migration of about 45,900 per year. The discrepancy is attributed to the lack of destination data for international out-migrants.


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