Migration to and from Northwest Oregon

by Erik Knoder

November 12, 2020

Fewer people seemed to move to Northwest Oregon in 2019 compared with one year before. Population estimates from Portland State University indicate net in-migration of about 2,177 people to our region in 2019. This was down from 2,652 in 2018, and it mirrors the drop in net in migration that happened statewide.

However, people are still moving in and out of 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 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 12,500 people per year on average moved into the county from 2014 through 2018. Somewhat more surprising to many people may be that Asia was the third-largest single source of immigrants to the county. It would not be a surprise to Oregon State administrators who know that 3,461 foreign students were enrolled in fall of 2019, with 1,390 of them from mainland China. About 800 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 migrants.
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 1,760 people moved there in an average year. Nearly 9,400 people in total moved from Benton County annually from 2014 through 2018.
Clatsop County Migration

About 3,840 people per year moved into Clatsop County from 2014 through 2018. Roughly 54 percent of these people came from outside of Oregon, which is not too surprising considering Astoria’s appeal as a retirement destination. But most of the largest source counties were in nearby metro counties or in neighboring Washington State. Columbia and Washington counties were the top sources for people moving into Clatsop County.
Nearby counties were popular destinations for people leaving Clatsop County, top destinations were two Portland metro area counties – Washington and Multnomah counties. Roughly two-thirds of people who left Clatsop County also left the state.
Columbia County Migration

Columbia County’s estimated annual in-migration from 2014 through 2018 was about 4,645. About 46 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 and important sources of migrants. 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.
The distribution of people leaving Columbia County was dominated by people moving to surrounding counties. Clatsop, Multnomah, and Cowlitz (Washington) counties were top destinations.
Lincoln County Migration

Lincoln County had about 4,031 in migrants on average per year for the years 2014 through 2018, with 47 percent coming from out of state. 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.: Washington, Texas, and California contributed a significant number of migrants to Lincoln County.
About 3,252 people left the county annually from 2014 through 2018. About 35 percent of the out-migrants moved out of Oregon. Portland and 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 1,537 on average per year from 2014 through 2018. About 63 percent of those Tillamook County immigrants came from other counties within Oregon and 37 percent came from other states or countries. Nearby counties contributed most to the county’s in-migration. Multnomah and Washington counties in Oregon, and nearby Clark County in Washington were the top three sources for migrants. Tillamook County had the highest share of migrants coming from within the state out of all the Northwest Oregon counties.
The distribution of people leaving Tillamook County was also directed mainly to other Oregon counties; only 30 percent of people leaving moved out of state. The most popular destination was Clackamas County, but other Portland metro counties and adjacent Clatsop County were popular as well as some out-of-state counties. From 2014 through 2018 an estimated 1,247 people left Tillamook County each year.
A Little Salt

Migration estimates at the county level should be taken with a grain of salt. For many 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 272 people moved every year from Lincoln County to DeKalb County, Missouri as the estimates report. It is more probable that a group or family moved one year and they all got included in the sample, and skewed the results, especially since the margin of error on this particular estimate is 282. Still, the results generally show that adjacent counties and nearby metro areas are most important when examining migration patterns. 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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