Posted by: Josh Lehner | July 11, 2019

Migration to Oregon, an Update

In recent months we have discussed the big picture outlook for labor supply, the silver tsunami of retirements, how migration is slowing but remains the key driver of population gains, and how birthrates are dropping and deaths are rising. However, what we haven’t done in some time is update the nuts and bolts on migration. Lately, I have been getting requests for presentations on migration and what follows largely stems from updating some of our office’s standard charts. For more on migration and how it impacts Oregon, see Mark’s Destination Oregon presentation from a few years ago.

First, our standard population chart we include in every presentation we give shows both the number of new Oregonians each year and the growth rate. Even as migration flows returned in the recent years, Oregon is a larger place today so the growth rate remains lower than what we saw in the 1970s and 1990s.

In terms of who moves to Oregon, it is important to keep in mind that migration is for the young. This goes for both those moving into Oregon and those moving out of state. And while Oregon does see a net gain from all age groups, 20- and 30-somethings account for the lion’s share. Our office pays particular attention to those in their root-setting years as this is when most people begin their careers in earnest, settle down, get married, have kids, and buy a house. This matters economically because the 20- and 30-something represent an influx of young, skilled labor for local businesses to hire and grow their operations.

In terms of where migrants are moving from, it typically is everywhere in the country except for Washington. In good times and in bad, more Oregonians move to Washington than Washingtonians move to Oregon. Some of this is likely due to tax policies, but some of this is also the classic suburban play, both of which are greatly influenced by our largest population center being located on the border. Overall, 30-40% of in-migrants typically come from California and then Oregon gains a little bit from every other state. The California migrants disproportionately locate along the coast and* in central and southern Oregon. Migrants from other states tend move in patterns similar to overall population in the state, so mostly to Portland and then the other urban areas as well.

* Since 2013 Californians no longer disproportionately move to the coast. Apologies for the mistake. See this post for more.

Now, among the non-West Coast states, the specifics do vary from year to year and even across data sets. I tend to focus less on any given year and look across time to see larger patterns. The reason is we will occasionally see a big gain from North Carolina or a big loss to Louisiana, but those are not typical and are blips along the way. Additionally different data sets vary as well. Over the past decade the ACS shows mostly losses to Arizona and gains from Idaho, while IRS migration statistics show the exact opposite pattern. Update: In the comments Guy mentions that IRS is probably a better data set given it covers the majority of the population. The ACS is based on a sample and is inherently more noisy. The advantages of the ACS is getting the characteristics of migrants (demographics, employment, income, etc) which the IRS data lacks.

Looking across the state shows which counties are gaining or losing population to other Oregon counties and that nearly all are gaining population from other states. Again this is just a single snapshot in time. Earlier in the expansion, nearly all migrants within Oregon were moving to the Portland MSA as that’s where all the job growth was occurring. Today, as the economy is growing everywhere, migration patterns are a big more spread out and 2 of the big 3 Portland area counties saw net out-migration to other Oregon counties. This is also not typical, but shifts like this are something our office is keeping an eye on. Similarly, Oregon counties rarely experience net out-migration to other states, as such the losses in Harney, Morrow, and Umatilla are likely more noise and less signal but worth monitoring moving forward.

Finally, a friend of our office asked about returnees to Oregon. Or are we seeing more people move back to Oregon after leaving the state earlier in their lives? We lack good data on this but Census data does show which state someone was born in, where they lived last year and where they live this year. This is an incomplete picture of someone’s life, obviously, but it is the data we have available. What we see so far in the Census data is returnees to Oregon are pretty steady both in number and as a share of all in-migrants to the state. Over the past few years 1 out of every 6 migrants to Oregon were born in the state. This includes the fact that 1 out of every 8 Californians moving to Oregon were actually born in Oregon as well.


  1. Hi Josh,

    In contrasting the ACS migration data which is telling a different story than the IRS migration data ( Arizona/ Idaho) wouldn’t you presume that the IRS is much better because nearly all adults ( hopefully) file tax return whereas ACS data- especially one-year estimates- have a small sample size and large margins of error?

    Local stakeholders in the workforce system often wring their hands and lament the “brain drain” when those soon to be root-setters head out for larger, more metropolitan areas from our local community.
    But I’ve used these migration by age data to show that it’s really more of a “brain exchange” that many in root-setting years are also in-migrating to Southern Oregon _ Jackson County more so than Josephine/ Coos_ but instead of focusing on how to keep our younger people and recent graduates to stay local, how about creating the conditions, amenities and opportunities that will attract more root-setter with higher levels of education to also migrate here as well as stay here too?


    • Thanks Guy; appreciate the local perspective and I agree with you. For social/family reasons we like it when we can live near our children/parents or eventually grandchildren/grandparents, but I’m not sure it matters as much economically. Brain exchange is a great way to phrase it. And yes, I put more stock in the IRS figures given they cover the vast majority of the population. ACS is more readily available (you can download a state to state Excel file on the Census site) and the one most people tend to cite. The real advantages of ACS to me are getting the characteristics of migrants, which you don’t have with the IRS data.

  2. […] Source: Migration to Oregon, an Update | Oregon Office of Economic Analysis […]

  3. Salem is making it far less attractive to migrate here with legislation like doing away with single family zoning and all kinds of new fees like permits to hike on certain trails and all flotation devices {renewed annually} on top of a 10% income tax the 3rd highest in the country, plus property taxes. If you back in the wages vs. cost of living compared to most states this is one damn expensive place to live and cost continue to rise faster than wages especially in terms of housing which has spiraled out of control. Interesting that Washington is about 1/3 smaller than Oregon yet has almost twice the population. Huh. Washington is not a perfect world for sure {no place is} but 0% income tax and a diverse and healthy economy make it far more attractive for retirees than Oregon. I would be very interested to see how many Californians migrate to WA vs. OR. I noted you have found out in your study that OR loses population to WA every year. It’s far more tax payer friendly, easy to follow those dots just follow the money.

    • Hi Jim, thanks for the comment. There’s no question taxes matter and do play a role. Exactly how high of an importance they are depends on the household or business. When it comes to migration people mostly move for job opportunities and housing. The West Coast has an advantage on the former but certainly not the later as you note. There is no question affordabilty is worse and that’s why our office has it at the top of the long-run risks to the outlook. In terms of California migrants, OR nets about the same as WA does even though WA is nearly twice our size. Part of that is geographic location as most people don’t move and then those that do move don’t really move that far. Obviously it’s a longer distance to move from CA to WA than from CA to OR. Specifically, in the latest IRS data available (2016), Oregon saw a net gain from California of 20,200 while Washington saw a net gain of 17,400.

  4. Regarding this: “The California migrants disproportionately locate along the coast and in central and southern Oregon.” Is there more data on this. What specifically is the California proportion compared to the other states? And a coast vs Southern Oregon number? Is it still low, such as 15% of Californians move to the coast, vs, say 10% of people from other states. Or is is more like 50% of Californians are locating outside Portland? What’s the specific disproportion? Thanks!

    • Hi John, thanks for the question. What I meant by disproportionate is comparing migration patterns to the existing population. For example, 10% of Oregonians live in southern Oregon but the region sees 20% of the net migration from California in recent years. As such, I would say Californians disproportionately locate in southern Oregon compared to the rest of the state. Now, in the past few years Californians no longer locate on the coast as much, but they did during the 2000s and through 2012. I wrote about this more in a follow-up post today.

  5. […] week we updated the basics of migration to Oregon. The post generated quite a few comments and questions. As such I wanted to post an update with a […]

  6. […] week we updated the basics of migration to Oregon. The post generated quite a few comments and questions. As such I wanted to post an update with a […]

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