Posted by: Josh Lehner | March 28, 2023

Upcoming 2022 County Population Estimates from Census

On Thursday (March 30th) Census will release nationwide population estimates at the county level. We already have Portland State’s county estimates for Oregon, and state estimates from Census. We know the Census data shows net out-migration from Oregon, and we know the PSU estimates show Multnomah is the biggest source of weakness.

I am out of town on Spring Break, so will be unable to respond as the data is released. I will dig into them when I return next week. But, there are a few specific things I am watching for in the data and I thought I would share them in advance of the actual data. Keep in mind one of the biggest benefits of the Census estimates are they are nationwide, so one can compare relative patterns across the nation to get a gauge on what is happening.

First, counties are an imperfect geographic unit to analyze. Counties actually work pretty well in Oregon, especially in the Portland region where the primary (largest) city is mostly contained in a single county, and the other counties are the suburbs. That is far from the case elsewhere in the nation. Large metro areas like Phoenix and San Diego are entirely contained within a single county, and the Los Angeles MSA is just two counties. These differences complicate any analysis trying to get at what happened during the pandemic, and possibly post-pandemic as well, time will tell.

Second, what happened during the pandemic, at least in the 2021 data, is a clear urban-suburban-rural pattern. Across nearly all large metro areas where county level data provides useful information, the urban core county lost population. This wasn’t just in Portland and Seattle, but also in some Sun Belt metros like Dallas, Nashville, and Orlando. Does this relative pattern continue in the 2022 population estimates? Do some of these cities see a rebound? If so, which ones saw relative improvements and which ones saw further losses? That’s a key item to watch.

Third, beyond the urban core story, are there broader patterns in the suburbs or rural areas that are of note? Are some entire metro areas seeing slow/no growth or are the suburbs holding up well even if urban cores are weak? Do we see growth holding steady or even accelerating into rural counties, or some sort of slowing? What about Deschutes County, which has still been growing faster than the state, but growing relatively slower than its historical rate? Does Census also estimate that places like Klamath and Malheur are seeing comparatively stronger gains? Lots of items to check in on with the new data.

Fourth, how does Clark County specifically impact the Oregon and Washington numbers? We know Census estimates the State of Washington also experience net out-migration and we have a good idea that Clark County saw net in-migration, so how does that impact the Portland regional numbers, and then what about Washington ex Clark in terms of migration, especially from the Puget Sound region?

Fifth, there are no silver linings when more people are voting with their feet saying they don’t want to live in your community. Even so, in terms of the economic impacts moving forward, the composition of the changes does matter. It’s not good to lose young families and retirees, but losing working-age households as well is even more problematic in terms of the economy. Now, we will not get the socio-economic characteristics of migrants until this fall when Census releases the 2022 American Community Survey data. But if we take a look at the available data, we see that even in 2021 there was net in-migration to Multnomah County among 20- and 30-somethings. That means young adults were still moving in during the pandemic, and will be starting to set down roots and the like. What does this look like in 2022 and beyond? That will be a key item to watch when the data becomes available.

Looking forward our office’s statewide forecast does call for a modest rebound in population growth and migration in 2023 and 2024. The regional economy is strong and job opportunities are plentiful. It is a very modest rebound, with statwide population gains being less than 1 percent annually for the decade ahead. We know the upcoming 2022 data will be down, we just don’t know exactly what Census estimates the geographic patterns or socio-economic characteristics are yet, that’s what new information we will receive this week and this fall respectively. As we learn more, we can continue to update our thinking on the impacts, the implications, and the forecast. Happy Spring Break everyone.


  1. The issue I really want watch is the new 7% capital gains tax in Wash, which was just upheld in the courts!! You saw that Fisher Financial immediately announced they were moving to Texas, as a result! This should help us retain some of our wealth when they sell out, don’t you think?

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