Tax Migration – One Way to Look at Population Change in Lane County

by Henry Fields

September 13, 2021

Migration is perennially a topic of concern for the economy and workforce. The fact that Lane County’s population has grown steadily over several decades is largely a positive contributor to employment, because population growth in general increases demand for local goods and services. People moving here also bring their skills, businesses, and human capital for the benefit of the local economy.

That’s not to say that population growth doesn’t bring headaches. Many areas across the United States, in the west and south in particular, are dealing with the fallout of increased housing and congestion costs that result from sustained population growth.

So it’s important whenever we can learn something new about who is coming here, where they’re coming from, and what they bring with them. One of the most fascinating sources on migration comes from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Unsurprisingly, the IRS knows a lot about people’s taxes, and their Tax Migration Statistics track the tax returns filed one year in one county and a different county the next.

These data are not a perfect picture of migration. Not everyone files a tax return every year. Certain types of migration to Lane County, such as students, are particularly likely to be undercounted. The most recent data available is from 2018-2019, so none of this captures the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. However, as an administrative dataset, Tax Migration Statistics captures the entirety of the counted category, and so unlike a survey does not come with margins of error.
Looking at the broadest categories, Lane County gained an additional 1,500 people (here measured by claimed exemptions) from 2018 to 2019. Broken out by states, that was a net in-migration of 2,123 people from different states and a net out-migration of 617 people to other parts of Oregon. That has typically been the pattern for Lane County – we send more people to (some) other parts of Oregon than we receive, and we receive many more people from out of state than we send.

The data is also available by county of origin and destination. The tables below show the top inflow and outflow locations for net migration with Lane County.

Seven of the top ten inflow counties are in California. That’s not much of a surprise – there’s been a substantial flow of Californians to Oregon for many years, and as the largest state in the U.S. the impact of that is easy to feel. Notice too that we have high net flows with Jackson County (Medford) and “other flows” from the Midwest and Northeast.
“Other flows” measure all the added-up counties from that region that on their own sent fewer than ten individuals. Since counties tend to be smaller outside of the west, this includes the vast majority of people in these areas migrating in either direction. In fact, other flows with the Midwest, if it was its own county, would make up the largest single inflow to Lane County.

Lane County sends the most out-migrants to other areas of the state, primarily to the Willamette Valley, Portland Metro or Central Oregon. We tend to have positive inflow from Southern Oregon and the coast. We also send more migrants to larger western metros, like Seattle, Vancouver (WA), Salt Lake City, and (not on this list) Reno and Boise.
This data is useful as a way to gain insight into which people choose to move to Lane County and who moves on. When tied in with other labor market information, it can begin to tell us quite a bit about the relative strengths of our labor market.

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