Northwest Oregon’s Economy by Income

by Erik Knoder

November 3, 2017

Northwest Oregon’s economy depends more on government spending and private investment than many people might realize. Although Oregon State University tends to dominate Benton County in many ways, residents there make more income from private investments. And though Lincoln County has a big tourism economy, government transfer payments are even bigger.

Most of the analysis offered by the Oregon Employment Department uses, naturally, employment as the measure of importance of industries. Counting jobs is one good way to describe an economy, but measuring income is also useful, and it often leads to a slightly different understanding. Looking at the income that people receive can show economic activity even when there is no job involved, and it can reveal economic activity outside of traditional industry definitions.

The table shows income received by people in Northwest Oregon in 2015 for the five largest categories for each county. The categories include traditional industries, type of customer, and accounting categories. Government spending is measured in two main categories: earnings and personal current transfer receipts. Earnings are the wages of government workers, and personal current transfer receipts are the monies received from government programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, and veteran’s benefits. Personal current transfer receipts can also include money from businesses, such as payments for personal injury and corporate gifts. Dividends, interest, and rent are monies received from personal investments. Earnings from people who commute out of a county for work are included in the adjustment for residence category, which is significant in Columbia County. Visitor spending is the estimate for the amount spent by visitors to a county regardless of which industry receives the spending. There is likely some degree of double counting with this category, for example, when a visitor spends money in a sole proprietor business.
Benton County has a large government sector thanks to Oregon State University, but it receives even more income from private investments in the form of dividends, interest, and rents. The county is also home to large health care companies, and has a large computer and electronic manufacturing industry.

Clatsop, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties all receive significant income from visitors, personal current transfer receipts, government employment, and private investment. The relative size of these categories is the same in Lincoln and Tillamook counties, but differs slightly in Clatsop County where visitor spending is most important. Personal current transfer receipts are related not just to the size of the population but also its age – and Clatsop County’s population is a little younger than Lincoln and Tillamook counties.

Columbia County is unusual in that commuters are responsible for so much of the income coming into the county. Nearly three-quarters of Columbia County’s working residents commute to jobs outside the county. This income is not identified by industry, but instead is lumped together into the adjustment for residence category.

Looking at the economy by income shows the importance of social programs and personal investment. The income from personal current transfer receipts and dividends, interest, and rent is a significant contribution to the economy of every county in Northwest Oregon.


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