Population Characteristics in Northwest Oregon

by Erik Knoder

January 5, 2021

Age Classes

As a region, the five counties of Northwest Oregon (Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook) generally had fewer children and mid-career working-age adults than did the state as a whole. By the same token, there were relatively more older teens, college-age adults, and senior residents in the area than in the state. There was one exception to this condition: the region had about the same percentage of adults over the age of 85 as did the state. The data are from the 2015-2019 American Community Survey by the Census Bureau.
The situation is more varied when the distribution for each county is examined. Clatsop and Columbia counties are more similar to the statewide distribution of age than the other three counties. Lincoln County has fewer young and middle-age people and considerably more older people than the state. The most striking difference with Benton County was the large number of people ages 15 to 19 and 20 to 24 living there due to the presence of Oregon State University. Tillamook County also had fewer younger people and more older people than the state, but its distribution was not as different as the one in Lincoln County. The counties were most similar in their share of children under age 5 and adults over age 85.
Clatsop, Columbia, and Tillamook counties had relatively more young children than the other two counties in the region. Benton, Clatsop, and Columbia counties were close to the state on the number of older seniors ages 75 plus. Clatsop, Columbia, and Tillamook counties generally differed from the state’s age distribution by less than 1 percentage point for youth 19 years and under. Columbia County differed the most from the state by having relatively fewer young adults ages 25 to 34 than did the state. Clatsop County was close to the state in many age categories, but it tended to have a little fewer people under the age of 55 and more people over that age.

Lincoln and Tillamook counties had clear differences from the state’s population distribution for the older age groups. The two counties uniformly had relatively more people age 55 and older than the state did and fewer people under age 55. Lincoln County especially differed from the state, and it differed by larger amounts than the other counties except for the college-age groups in Benton County. Of the 13 age groups, Lincoln County had 10 groups that differed by 1 percentage point or more from the state’s distribution.

Of these five counties in Northwest Oregon, the age distributions of Benton County differed most from the state’s distribution. Benton County’s difference was due to students at Oregon State University. People ages 20 through 24 made up 16.4% of the county’s total population versus 6.4% of the statewide population.

An important workforce difference between this region and the state is that every county in it has a smaller proportion than the state of adults ages 25 to 44. Whether it is a lack of work opportunities, cultural amenities or some other factor, the region is not attracting early-career workers as well as other areas.

The different age distributions between the counties reflect their locations, cultural and educational opportunities and economies. Older adults and retirees may choose to live along the coast for its natural beauty. Families in Columbia County are able to take advantage of job opportunities in the nearby Portland and Longview-Kelso labor market areas. Students, faculty and staff are drawn to Benton County and Oregon State. But over the past several decades the region has had difficulty generating a sufficient number of family wage jobs and affordable homes to retain workers with dependents. Many young people have moved to large metro areas where jobs are in greater abundance.

Race and Ethnicity

Before discussing the race and ethnic makeup of Northwest Oregon, it is important to mention a few points. First, respondents to the survey were given the option of specifying one racial category (White, Black, American Indian, Asian, Pacific Islander, or Some other race) or more than one racial category. In other words, respondents could classify themselves as belonging to two or more races. Second, the survey breaks out the population by ethnic categories (Hispanic, not Hispanic) in addition to racial categories. Finally, all racial data from the survey is self-reported. Respondents decide with which racial and ethnic group they want to be identified.

Despite these caveats, it is still true that the region’s population remains primarily White and not Hispanic, although the percentages of minorities and Hispanics have increased in recent years. About 89% of the region’s population identified themselves as White alone, compared with the statewide average of 84%, and 92% of the region’s residents classified themselves as not Hispanic compared with 87% for the state.  

The number of Hispanics in the region has increased. In 1980, Hispanics were 1.6% of the population. This increased to 2.0% in 1990, to 4.3% in 2000 and to 8% in the 2015 to 2019 period. This increase has been dramatic in Tillamook County. Hispanics were 1.1% of the population in 1980; they had increased to 5.1% of the population by 2000 and to 10% in the 2015 to 2019.

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