Northwest Oregon Population by County

by Erik Knoder

February 23, 2022

The population of Northwest Oregon (Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties) fell by 86 people (-0.03%) to an estimated 266,949 in 2021. How is it possible that counties that normally grow actually lose population? Since the loss occurred solely in Benton County, the answer is probably related to Oregon State University and its restrictions during the pandemic. The average annualized growth rate for the region since 2010 has been 0.83%, much slower than the 1.5% annual growth during the 1990s but similar to rate of the 2000s. Growth in the region will probably return to a more normal trend in 2022. Population growth seems tied to economic performance in the region. The region grew by 2,000 or more people each year from 2005 through 2007. It slowed as immigration slowed during the 2007-2009 recession and early recovery. In 2014 population growth jumped by 1,900 and had been that much or more every year until 2020.
The 2020 Census provided an opportunity to reset the level for annual population estimates, and the result was a significant increase in the estimated population of Clatsop, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties. In 2020, Columbia County’s population was estimated to be lower than expected and Benton County’s population estimate seemed to be pretty much in line with the previous trend. Since the pre-Census estimates are not revised, these changes can be clearly seen in the chart above. The line markers for 2020 (the second from the right side end) show noticeable increases for Lincoln, Clatsop, and Tillamook counties; a slight decrease for Columbia County; and a continuation of the trend line for Benton County. The sharp drop in Benton County’s population is evident by the marker for the 2021 estimate.

Benton County (aka the Corvallis Metropolitan Area) provided 35% of the area’s total population and more growth than any other county in the region since 2010. The county’s resident population decreased by 1,340 (-1.4%) in 2021, probably due in large part to the pandemic and the subsequent reduction of in-person classes at Oregon State University in 2021. The county’s estimated population was 93,976 in 2021.

Columbia County saw its estimated population drop ever so slightly (-2 people) due to the 2020 Census. In reality, the population estimates from 2010 through 2019 were just higher than the real growth, and the total adjustment was made in 2020. Columbia’s population growth is fueled by its proximity to the rest of the Portland metropolitan area. Housing in the county is typically much less expensive than in adjoining Washington County, which is attractive to commuters. The county’s estimated population grew again in 2021 by 266 to 53,014.

Clatsop County added 291 residents in 2021, which was comparable with growth in recent years prior to the pandemic. The county gained 1,807 people the previous year courtesy of the 2020 Census, and it grew by about 1.0% per year from 2010 to 2020. The county’s population is older on average than Columbia County and relies more on migration for population growth. The estimated population was 41,428 in 2021.

Lincoln County also relies heavily on migration for population growth. The county added an estimated 516 residents in 2021, the most since 1997 except for the 2020 Census year. Lincoln County got a bump of 2,127 people in 2020, meaning that the pre-census estimates had been low. Growth from 2010 to 2020 was about 0.9% per year. The county’s population passed 50,000 in 2020, and was estimated at 50,903 in 2021. The county attracts retirees, and the recovery of the stock market and national housing prices have probably helped people who want to retire to Oregon’s beautiful coast. Slow job growth, lower wages, and high housing prices still challenge Lincoln County.

Tillamook County’s population is nearly as old as Lincoln County’s. Deaths often outnumber births and the county relies on migration for growth. The county’s population increased by 181 in 2021. Tillamook County gained 947 people in 2020 due in large part to the 2020 Census. The county typically grows by about 200 people per year. Growth averaged about 0.8% per year from 2010 through 2020. The county had 27,628 residents in 2021.


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