The Ins and Outs of Migration in Oregon

by Annette Shelton-Tiderman

August 30, 2018

Does the Oregon Trail still exist? Historical records indicate the first overland immigrants arrived in 1841. This small group of 70 pioneers blazed the way for future generations, and what started out as a trickle of aspiring farmers, has given way to an increasingly diverse flow of people from many locations. The economic drivers behind Oregon’s net migration vary widely. Today, as in those early days of the Oregon Trail, Oregon is a net importer of people.

Long viewed as the “land of the empire builders”, Oregon is currently home to over 4,141,000 people. As the population changes, questions often come up regarding who’s moving in, who’s moving out, and who’s staying put. A good source of data to address these and other questions is the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, Statistics of Income Division. Oregon tax filers fall into four major groups: non-migrants, those who lived in Oregon and the same county from one year to the next; same-state filers who lived in Oregon but moved from one Oregon county to another; inflow, those moving to Oregon from another state; and outflow, those leaving Oregon.

Oregon as the “Golden West”

Between 2015 and 2016, 91 percent of those filing Oregon tax returns had lived in the same Oregon county the previous year. There were well over one million returns filed by these non-migrants and nearly three million exemptions claimed. On average, there were 2.1 exemptions per return, suggesting that these non-migrants included family members in addition to the person filing the return. The average adjusted gross income per exemption was $35,355.

In contrast, Oregonians who moved from one county to another accounted for 2.9 percent of income tax files. There were 1.7 exemptions per return, and the adjusted gross income was the lowest of all categories, $31,088 per exemption. This suggests more single tax filers earned lower wages than those Oregonians who stayed put from one year to the next as well as lower wages than newcomers and those moving out of state.  

In-migrants (inflow) accounted for 3.7 percent of those filing Oregon tax returns in 2016. They also reported fewer exemptions (1.8 per tax return). However, of all those moving into, out of, and around the state, new arrivals had the highest adjusted gross income per exemption ($34,843).

Those leaving Oregon made up 2.4 percent of tax returns filers. They claimed 1.8 exemptions with $31,767 attributed to each. Overall, those moving out of state reported $2,688,658,000 in total adjusted gross income. In other words, those leaving the state accounted for less income than those staying or arriving in Oregon.

Oregon as the “Land of Promise”

Overall, people in the United States are often characterized as restless and rootless. When asked by the Pew Research Center why they live where they do, movers across the country cited the pull of economic opportunity. Those who stayed in one place most often cited the tug of family and connections – their hometowns perceived as good places to raise children. Oregon shows similar patterns.

Over time, young adults have been the most mobile population in the country. Younger people are those most likely to be approaching or completing such life course transitions as graduating high school, getting a job, going to and/or graduating from college, getting married, or having children. Post-recession, roughly half of all county-to-county migrants were between the ages of 15 and 34. In Oregon, those under age 35 accounted for 49 percent of county-to-county moves. Age 35 appears to be a turning point at which people tend to settle into one place – perhaps due to not only such personal reasons as friends, family, children in school, and sense of community but also to economic reasons. As a population matures, people tend to be reluctant to move for a new job or to pursue a career. Additionally, the increasing cost of housing across the country can make it very difficult to leave one locale for another.

The migration patterns in Oregon bear out the strong tendency of youthful moves around the state as well as into and out of Oregon. Peak moves are concentrated among those aged 26-34. Nearly one in three have moved within the state, into or out of the state. Those aged 35-44 show the greatest similarity across all categories of tax filers. Migration into, around, and out of the state drops off noticeably after age 44 and continues to decline from then on.

Where Are Those Greener Pastures?

A review of the 2015-2016 Oregon individual income tax returns shows that the same five states provide the greatest number of in-migrants as well as received the most out-migrants. California sends the most people to Oregon, followed by Washington, Texas, Arizona, and Idaho. The adjusted gross income per exemption follows this same hierarchy. This changes when it comes to luring Oregonians to new locations. Washington State receives nearly twice as many people than California. Arizona and Idaho rank third and fourth; Texas receives the fewest of the top five states. Interestingly, the average adjusted gross income per exemption for those inbound is $33,993 – more than those leaving the state ($30,817 per exemption). Overall, those leaving Oregon appear to have earned less than those moving into the state.

Oregon’s draw appears to be the urban centers. Multnomah County received 28,394 inbound migrants ($41,824 adjusted gross income per exemption); Washington County, 19,090 ($34,780); Clackamas County, 10,172 ($40,607); Lane County – home of the University of Oregon, 10,035 ($29,024); and Deschutes County, 7,597 ($45,637). Counties losing people to out-of-state destinations included Multnomah, 21,649 ($33,825 per exemption); Washington, 14,818 ($35,291); Clackamas, 7,786 ($39,487); Lane, 5,984 ($30,661); and Marion, 4,324 ($23,348).

Just as the same five states sent and received migrants to and from Oregon, the same counties were engaged in the flow of people. California’s Los Angeles and San Diego counties, Washington’s Clark and King counties, and Arizona’s Maricopa County were at the top of the list. For the most part, it appears that migration came from and went to urban centers.  

Oregon, Continuing a Tradition of Opportunity
Net migration – the difference between in-bound and out-bound citizens, is one of Oregon’s continuing competitive advantages. As new people move into the state, they not only add to the labor market, they also bring in more taxable dollars. For Oregonians who have settled into the same community, 54.3 percent reported adjusted gross incomes of $50,000 or more. For in-bound individuals, 44.5 percent reported incomes of $50,000 or more; for those leaving the state, only 41.3 percent reported incomes of that level.

People come to Oregon from across the nation bringing with them their talents, dreams, and economic resources. In 2016, there were 68,276 tax returns from those moving into Oregon. This accounted for 120,059 exemptions, and totaled $4,081,150,000 in adjusted gross income. Although nearly all counties saw inflow of new citizens, most people settled into the state’s urban centers. On the other hand, people leaving Oregon filed 46,547 tax returns. This included 84,102 exemptions and accounted for $2,591,773,000 in adjusted gross income. 

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