Posted by: Josh Lehner | March 21, 2023

Oregon’s Regional Income Distributions

The impact of the pandemic and economic recovery to date on regional economies within Oregon is the exact opposite of the fallout from the Great Recession and expansion last decade. Back then it was the nation’s largest metro areas, with their more diversified economies that lead growth. The Portland region in particular was a standout, being among the fastest growing large metros when it came to high-wage job growth, median household income gains, and increases in educational attainment. The state, and nation’s smaller metro areas and rural economies tended to lag the recovery until mid-decade when they began to regain lost ground.

Today, it is those smaller metro areas and rural economies that are leading growth. Large metro areas nationwide are lagging. The impact of working from home and loss of business travel during the pandemic is disproportionately impacting big cities, and their urban cores. Population has followed as workers are now able to live farther afield.

Even as the recent relative patterns of growth point toward the urban-rural divide not widening during the pandemic, there have been clear, longer-running trends that point toward these differences when it comes to demographics, educational attainment, incomes, industrial structure, and poverty, among others.

In recent decades, income growth in Oregon’s urban areas has outpaced gains in rural areas considerably. Back in 1980, the typical rural household in Oregon’s income was about 10 percent lower than the typical urban household in the state. Today, that difference is 25 percent.

There are myriad factors impacting economic growth, including both the number of local workers and how productive each worker is. The use of capital – be it financial, human, natural, physical, or social – is a key consideration when identifying a region’s strengths and future opportunities.

What follows is a large slide deck that shows historical trends at the regional level across Oregon when it comes to income and poverty. There are also snapshots at the regional level of how many local Oregonian households are struggling with high housing costs, including measures of poverty, residual income, and using MIT’s Living Wage calculations. These regions are grouped at the county level, and based on available microdata from the Census Bureau so we are talking about Public Use Microdata Areas (PUMAs). The map below shows the regions used in the slide deck. I do break out East Cascades as well, into Deschutes, and the North Central region (which is the Gorge down through the rest of Central Oregon ex Deschutes).

Lastly, I’m not sure there is a big takeaway here other than some of these longer-run trends across the state. Those trends have been a bit different in recent years as noted and depending on the urban-suburban-rural dynamics in the years ahead, may continue. But these slides I hope are a useful reference for those interested in this type of information. This is actually a project I had ready to go in February 2020 and then shelved due to the pandemic as our needs and focus shifted toward the recession and recovery.


  1. Thanks for the analysis in the attachment. I very much appreciate the extra analysis in Eugene that looks at how the student population impacts our numbers. It’s so helpful to have your office have readily available analysis that takes that into consideration.



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