Migration to and from Northwest Oregon

by Erik Knoder

November 14, 2018

More people seem to be moving to northwest Oregon compared with during the recession. Population estimates indicate a growth rate over one percent in 2017. Net in migration was about 3,000 people in 2017. However, people are still moving out as well as into northwest Oregon. Where these people are coming from and where are they going? The U.S. Census Bureau provides some answers for the years that Northwest Oregon was experiencing and recovering from the Great Recession.

Benton County Migration

As the biggest county in Northwest Oregon, and home to Oregon State University, it is no surprise that Benton leads in migration. About 10,700 people per year on average moved into the county from 2011 through 2015. Somewhat more surprising to many people may be that Asia was the second-largest single source of immigrants to the county. It would not be a surprise to Oregon State administrators who know that 3,627 foreign students were enrolled in fall of 2017, with 1,499 of them from mainland China. Roughly 600 people per year sacrificed their loyalty to the University of Oregon Ducks and moved from Lane County to their rival’s turf – home of the Beavers (Go Beavs!). Portland metro counties supply many of OSU’s students and that is reflected in the in-migration data; Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah were all major sources of migrant.
Migration from Benton County was more typical; most people moved to nearby counties and metro areas. Adjacent Linn County was the top destination by a wide margin. About 1,700 people moved there in an average year.
Clatsop County Migration

Clatsop County had an estimated 4,200 people per year move into Clatsop County from 2011 through 2015. About 59 percent of these people came from outside of Oregon, which is not too surprising considering Astoria’s appeal as a retirement destination. Four of the top 12 source counties were in neighboring Washington State. Multnomah and Washington counties each had around 350 moving into Clatsop County.
Although nearby counties were popular destinations for people leaving Clatsop County, the top destination was Maricopa County, Arizona – home to the city of Phoenix. The Portland metro area attracted about 620 people per year from Clatsop County. Surprisingly, only a few Clatsop County residents moved to neighboring Columbia County and none were estimated to have moved to Wahkiakum County, Washington just to the northwest.
Columbia County Migration

Columbia County’s estimated annual in-migration from 2011 through 2015 was about 3,600. About 42 percent came from outside of Oregon. Washington and Multnomah counties each supplied more immigrants than any other single place. This is not surprising considering the large number of Columbia County residents who commute to jobs in those two counties. Cowlitz and Clark County, Washington are across the Columbia River and are part of Columbia County’s commute shed. Parts of Columbia County function as bedroom communities for the metro job market. Metro workers move to Columbia County to find affordable homes and more relaxed, small-town lifestyles. Columbia County also received overseas migrants in slightly larger numbers than other rural counties in northwest Oregon.
The distribution of people leaving Columbia County was dominated by people moving to surrounding counties. Washington, Multnomah and Cowlitz (Washington) counties were top destinations. But out-of-state counties showed up too. Yellowstone County (Billings), Montana claimed the number five spot, and counties in New York, Wyoming, and Missouri also made the top twelve list of destinations. These all could be correct, but it is important to keep in mind that the data are based on surveys and that there some errors in the estimates.
Lincoln County Migration
Lincoln County had about 3,100 in migrants on average per year for the years 2011 through 2015 with 57 percent coming from out of state and 41 percent coming from other counties in Oregon. Although Multnomah County was by far the largest single source, Lincoln County had a good variety of in-migration sources. Lincoln County attracted people from up and down the western U.S. Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, and California contributed a significant number of migrants to Lincoln County.
Lincoln County was unusual in that it had more people estimated to be leaving than moving in. The data show nearly 3,500 people left the county from 2011 to 2015. This may be due the margin of error in the estimates. It wouldn’t be surprising if net migration was much lower during the recession years, but an actual net loss of population by migration is contradicted by the migration estimates produced by Portland State University for Oregon’s counties. About 60 percent of the out-migrants moved to other counties in Oregon. Nearby metro areas were common destinations, as were nearby states.
Tillamook County Migration

Tillamook County has a smaller population than the other counties in northwest Oregon, and its migration is correspondingly smaller. Total in-migration was about 1,260 on average per year from 2011 through 2015. About 68 percent of those Tillamook County immigrants came from other counties within Oregon and 27 percent came from other states. Nearby counties contributed most to the county’s in-migration. Benton, Washington, and Clatsop counties were the top three Oregon sources for migrants. Tillamook County had the highest share of the Northwest Oregon counties for migrants coming from within the state.
The distribution of people leaving Tillamook County was also directed mainly to other Oregon counties. The most popular destination was Washington County, but other Portland metro counties were popular as well as some out-of-state counties.
From 2011 through 2015 an estimated 1,360 people left Tillamook County each year. As with Lincoln County, this implies net out migration, which is also at odds with other data sources.  

A Little Salt

Migration estimates at the county level should be taken with a grain of salt. For most county-to-county estimates the margin of error is slightly larger than the estimate. This can lead to some questionable estimates, especially for the out-of-state counties. It would be quite surprising if roughly 90 people moved every year from Summit County, Utah (population about 36,300) to Tillamook County. It is more probable that a group or couple families moved one year and they all got included in the sample, and skewed the results. Still, the results generally show that adjacent counties and nearby metro areas are most important when examining migration patterns. The high error ranges can also lead to erroneous totals, and this is probably the case for Lincoln and Tillamook counties. One clear value of the migration data is that it serves as a reminder of how mobile our society is. And more specifically, how mobile our workforce is.


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