Population Characteristics in Northwest Oregon

by Erik Knoder

December 14, 2017

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 were two small exceptions to this condition: the region had about the same percentage of adults ages 45 to 59 and people over the age of 85 as did the state. The data are from the 2012-2016 American Community Survey by the Census Bureau.
The situation is more varied when the distribution for each county is examined. The four less-populated counties tend to be more similar to each other than with metropolitan Benton County. 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 and Lincoln counties had proportionately more residents between the ages of 60 and 85. Columbia County generally had more children, young teenagers and people in the middle of their careers. The counties were most similar in their share of children under age five and adults over age 85.

The age distribution of Clatsop and Columbia counties’ populations were more similar to the state as a whole than the other counties in the area. Columbia County had relatively more young children than other counties in the region and, along with Benton County, was close to the state on the number of seniors. Columbia County differed the most from the state by having relatively fewer young adults than did the state. The county is just developing its community college, which may influence that age group. Clatsop County was close to the state in many age categories; it simply tended to have a little fewer people under the age of 55 and more people over that age.

Of these five counties in northwest Oregon, the age distributions of Benton and Lincoln counties differed most from the state’s. Benton County’s difference was due to students at Oregon State University. People ages 20 through 24 made up 16.4 percent of the county’s total population. Lincoln County had relatively more people age 55 and older than the state did and fewer people under age 45. Not only did Lincoln County differ from the state, it differed by larger amounts than the other counties. Of the 13 age groups, Lincoln County had 10 that differed by 1 percentage point or more from the state’s distribution.
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 University. 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 and homes 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 or more than one racial category (White, Black, American Indian, Asian, Pacific Islander, other). 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 93 percent of the region’s population identified themselves as white, compared with the statewide average of 89 percent, and 93 percent of the region’s residents classified themselves as not Hispanic compared with 88 percent for the state. 

The number of Hispanics in the region has increased. In 1980, Hispanics were 1.6 percent of the population. This increased to 2.0 percent in 1990, to 4.3 percent in 2000 and to 7.0 percent in the 2012 to 2016 period. This increase has been dramatic in Tillamook County. Hispanics were 1.1 percent of the population in 1980; they had increased to 5.1 percent of the population by 2000 and to 10 percent in the 2012-2016 American Community Survey period.


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