Posted by: Josh Lehner | August 4, 2014

Map of the Week: Commuting, Worker Flows and Oregon Communities

Mark (and Kanhaiya) are working on a migration study, which Mark will present at this year’s Oregon Economic Forum in October. There will be lots of great information not only on historical trends but also looking forward, what can the state and regional economies expect in terms of population and economic growth. One byproduct of this research is looking at worker flows within local communities. A family may move to Portland or Salem of the Coast, but that does not mean that they necessarily work in the same county they live in. There are can be substantial cross border flows both into and out of counties and communities in Oregon. What we have tried to do here is categorize counties based on these patterns.

  • Boardroom: Lots of local jobs relative to population, resulting in substantial inflow of workers from a different county
  • Melting Pot: Large commuting flows in both directions relative to population; county is both a job hub and residential community
  • Autonomous: Small commuting flows in both directions relative to population; most county residents work within the county and not many commuting in
  • Bedroom: Relatively few local jobs, resulting in substantial outflow of workers into a different county


A few key takeaways from the map. Washington County has the second highest employment count in the state, however it is classified as a melting pot county. Even though Washington County, on net, has approximately the same number of local jobs as employed residents, there is substantial commuting in each direction — about 80,000 each way. Malheur County in Eastern Oregon is a boardroom county given it has more jobs than employed residents, which results in a large influx of (mostly) Idahoans. The state’s bedroom counties are largely a part of, or adjacent to larger metropolitan areas, where job opportunities may be more plentiful. In each of these counties, there is a larger number of employed residents than the number of local jobs. Lastly, 15 of the state’s 36 counties can be classified as autonomous, meaning that most residents work in their home county (about 94 percent, compared with a 75 percent statewide average). The typical autonomous county in Oregon only has gross commuting flows of 12 percent or less — meaning the if you add up the number of workers commuting in and those commuting out, as a share of the local job base, it is just 1 in 8 or 1 in 9 workers moving in either direction. This last group — Oregon’s large share of autonomous counties — distinguishes the state a bit from our neighbors, as seen below.


Most counties in Idaho or Washington are more of an either/or type, with relatively few that are balanced when it comes to net workers as a share of local jobs. This is a slightly different measure than used above, but a similar concept. Potentially, this indicates a few different things. Among them:

  • Population distribution, or distance between cities
  • Size of counties. Oregon is the largest of the three states (in sq miles) but also has the fewest number of counties. The average Oregon county is 40-50 percent larger than our NW neighbors.
  • Industry mix (seasonal employment; retail, health care, professional services, etc, each may have different commuting patterns)
  • Home price differential
  • Transportation infrastructure (and access)
  • Border effects

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