Posted by: Josh Lehner | January 30, 2017

Oregon, Diversity and the Middle East

People have been moving to Oregon in droves ever since Lewis and Clark*. This fact is a foundational statement in our office’s presentations and one of the key reasons Oregon’s economy outperforms the typical state over the business cycle. As our office has pointed out in the past, Oregon is essentially a 50-50 state when it comes to Oregon-born residents vs those born elsewhere in the country. Focusing only on adults (children don’t get to decide where they want to live) shows that just 38% of adult Oregon residents were born in the state.

What, at times, goes unsaid is that we’re primarily talking about domestic migration and not international migration, of which Oregon does not receive a large influx. Like the rest of the country, Oregon is becoming more diverse over time, however the state does rank below the national average when it comes to racial and ethnic diversity. That said, Oregon does not rank last or even in the bottom 10 states either. After every decennial Census, Kanhaiya, our state demographer, compiles the data across states and counties here in Oregon. What his data shows, is that even as Oregon may be diversifying faster than all but a handful of other states, we rank 32nd most diverse in both 2000 and 2010. It takes a really long time to change relative rankings across states, even if short-term trends are considerably different.


Within Oregon, only Jefferson County has a higher diversity index than the U.S. overall. A handful of counties — Hood River, Malheur, Marion, Morrow, Multnomah, Washington and Umatilla — are just a notch below the U.S. and certainly above the median state.

While the above focuses on overall diversity, given where much of the national discussion is right now, I thought I would dig into the data and focus on Arab and Middle Eastern countries. Data speaks to me, so being able to put topics in some sort of numerical perspective helps.

What I ended up doing, as shown below, was focusing on ancestry. How do people self-identify where they come from? This does not measure attachment to a location or ancestry, but rather a person’s heritage, roots, and the like. I started with the list of specific countries listed in the executive order, but then broadened it given that the Census Bureau has a specific Arab category that incorporates additional countries and ancestries. Finally I also included a few additional ancestries, such as Israeli and Palestinian, to compile what most consider the broader Middle East.

All told, my classification of Arab or Middle Eastern ancestry shows that 2.8 million U.S. residents, or just over 1 percent identifies as such. Here in Oregon the figures are 27,000 and 0.8 percent. To help put those figures in perspective here in Oregon, that’s roughly equivalent to a city the size of Redmond or Tualatin, or slightly larger than Union or Wasco counties. This data comes straight off published Census/ACS tables (B04006). In examining the underlying microdata it shows that 1/3 of such Oregon residents were actually born abroad in the countries that are home to these ancestries. The rest were born abroad in a different country, or here in the U.S.


Among Oregon counties, Benton, Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington, all have shares of the population above the U.S. average for Arab and Middle Eastern ancestries.

Finally, a few years ago the Census Bureau compiled a research brief on Arab households in the country. Among their findings were that Arab households tended to have a higher percentage of married-couple families, larger household sizes, higher incomes and a lower homeownership rate than the overall population.

* If you want to go back to the Bering land bridge, it’s true for an even longer time period.


  1. Very nice work, Josh! Real data is very welcome in this discussion.

    • Thanks Jerry! Let me know if you need anything else.

  2. Thank you for putting local and national numbers onto this topic. I wonder how Oregon’s two term former Governor, Republican Victor Atiyeh would have been affected by current national policy? I guess we will never know since he died in 2014.

  3. Josh,

    I love reading your various articles and studies! Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Doug; appreciate it!

  4. […] Source: Oregon, Diversity and the Middle East | Oregon Office of Economic Analysis […]

  5. […] The Office of Economic Analysis looks into the numbers behind some of these demographic trends in this post. […]

  6. […] the heels of the recent post on diversity and Middle Eastern ancestry, our office wanted to get a better understanding of the foreign-born […]

  7. […] the heels of the recent post on diversity and Middle Eastern ancestry, our office wanted to get a better understanding of the foreign-born […]

  8. […] couple years ago we examined Oregon’s diversity and the fact that Oregon’s foreign-born population is fairly similar to, albeit smaller than […]

  9. […] couple years ago we examined Oregon’s diversity and the fact that Oregon’s foreign-born population is fairly similar to, albeit smaller than […]

  10. […] couple years ago we examined Oregon’s diversity and the fact that Oregon’s foreign-born population is fairly similar to, albeit smaller than […]

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