Oregon's Changing Demographics

Oregon's Changing Demographics

by Christian Kaylor

November 16, 2016

The facts are straightforward. Oregon was the 16th fastest-growing U.S. state from 2010 to 2015. We added 197,903 people, representing 5.2 percent growth. But underneath those broad statistics, there are several Oregon communities growing noticeably faster, while others are actually losing population. From an economic perspective, the changing demographics of the workforce is likely to be the largest driver of employment growth into the future. Businesses simply cannot create new jobs in communities that do not have an available workforce to draw from.

Oregon's population growth was not at all evenly distributed around the state. Of the 36 counties in Oregon, just 16 counties saw 95 percent of all population growth. The three largest Oregon counties, Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties are all in the Portland region. They represent 60 percent of Oregon's population growth with just 41 percent of the population.

On a percentage basis, Deschutes County in Central Oregon was the fastest growing at 11 percent, twice as fast as the rest of Oregon. The next three fastest-growing counties were the three largest Oregon counties: Washington (8.0%), Multnomah (7.1%), and Clackamas (6.5%). On the other end of the spectrum, almost half of Oregon's counties have barely grown at all or are actually losing population. Douglas County, in southern Oregon, is the largest of these counties showing anemic growth, having added less than 100 people to its population in five years.

The Baby Boomers and the Graying of Oregon

Beneath the larger population growth statistics we see large demographic shifts around the state, particularly when it comes to age. Several of the more rural counties have older populations. In southern Oregon, both Douglas and Josephine counties have populations where one out of four residents are 65 years or older. Most of Oregon's smaller, rural counties have relatively older populations and are growing slowly. But growth in the older demographics is not just a rural phenomenon.

All across Oregon, the 65 and older population is the largest growing demographic. In many of Oregon's counties, the majority of population growth is among folks age 65 and older. For both Deschutes and Clackamas counties, senior citizens represented the fastest-growing demographic by far. Deschutes County saw an eye popping 43 percent increase in the number of seniors in just the last five years. Close behind are Washington County (33% increase) and Clackamas County (32% increase). Keep in mind, the primary demographic driver here is baby boomers aging into their senior status, though new migration of retirees is certainly a factor as well.

The College Educated Workforce

As the baby boom generation moves into the retirement years, communities that are able to attract, train and retain college graduates in the workforce will be globally competitive into the future. Looking around Oregon, there are sharp contrasts in the demographics of the educated workforce.

From 2010 to 2015, Oregon added 86,030 working-age people with a four-year college degree or an advanced degree. This important demographic grew by 14 percent statewide, almost three times faster than the general population. However, 95 percent of this net growth occurred in just four counties: Multnomah County (42,396 new people), Washington County (18,882), Clackamas County (13,494), and Deschutes County (8,828). Several large counties saw very little growth in their college educated workforce, including Lane County (1,205), and Jackson County (543). Many populous counties actually decreased here, including Douglas, Linn, and Marion counties.

The lack of growth in the college educated workforce in major Oregon metros like Eugene, Salem, Albany, and Medford is cause for concern. Oregon's high-wage industries rely heavily on workers with college education. Engineering firms need engineers, law firms need lawyers, and hospitals need doctors. These and other professional and technical companies rely on a supply of college educated professionals in order to succeed and grow. With many communities failing to attract skilled workers, this trend threatens to increase the economic divide in Oregon.

The Diversity Challenge

The United States is becoming increasingly diverse. Half of all U.S. children under the age of five are racial and ethnic minorities. By 2020, a majority of children in the U.S. will be minorities. At some point in the middle of this century, minorities are forecast to become the majority in the United States.

Oregon is well behind the curve on racial and ethnic diversity. In 2015, about 39 percent of the national population belonged to an ethnic or racial minority group. In Oregon, it was only about 24 percent. There are many diverse communities in Oregon. In Beaverton, three out of five children are minorities. But as a whole, Oregon noticeably lacks diversity. Even Portland, Oregon's largest city, is disproportionately white. Of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., Portland is the least diverse.

Even as Oregon becomes more diverse, Oregon's lack of diversity poses a large economic downside for the state. In a global economy, Oregon businesses trade goods and services around the world. Businesses need talented workers who are linguistically and culturally comfortable negotiating with people from diverse, global backgrounds. Our lack of diversity makes Oregon less economically competitive in the modern economy.

Into an Uncertain Future

Oregon is changing. Along with that, the people of Oregon are also changing. But change is part of Oregon's fundamental nature. Today, the majority of people living in Oregon were born outside of the state. But that high rate of in-migration was also true in the 1960s. Then, as today, most Oregonians made the decision to come here.

The businesses of tomorrow will require the talents of the people living in Oregon today in order to succeed and grow Oregon's economy. If we can prepare today's Oregonians to work in that future, or attract new people who already have those skills, the outlook for the future economy will be a bright one.