Posted by: Josh Lehner | April 5, 2023

5 Things about the 2022 County Population Estimates

No, I’m not trying to be clickbaity, or bump our SEO here, but I have now had a few days to begin to digest the 2022 county population estimates that Census released last week. Here are a few things that stand out to me so far. Keep in mind in Oregon we look at 2 sets of population estimates, one from Portland State’s Population Research Center and the other from the Census Bureau. And also there is some truth to the old adage that demography is destiny. At a base level, how many people live in your community impacts the economy, the labor market, and public revenues. These numbers matter for the outlook.

First, at a high level the 2022 population estimates look a lot like 2021 nationwide. There is still a clear urban-suburban-rural dynamic. I hope you saw this cool domestic migration map Census made for the release last week. You can see the urban outflows not just from Denver, Portland, and Seattle, but also from Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Memphis, Miami, Nashville, Raleigh and so on.

Second, that said there are some key differences between the 2021 and 2022 patterns. In general, it remains true that most urban cores nationwide continued to lose population last year. However for at least half of the large metros for which county level data is decently useful, 2022 was less bad. The outflows were smaller. That was not the case in Portland (Multnomah County) which saw about the same negative domestic migration rate last year as the year before.

Third, one other difference is in many of those Sun Belt metros their suburbs did grow even as their urban cores declined. That was not the case in the Census estimates for the West Coast. And in the Portland region, Census estimates both Clackamas and Washington counties lost population. That’s different both relative to PSU’s estimates of small gains in the main suburbs, and Census’ 2021 estimates of growth there as well. Clark County is the local exception, with it’s continued growth and net in-migration. Now, I will say Clark’s net domestic migration in 2022 was less than half that of the 2021 estimates (2,300 vs 5,700). As such the impact on the Oregon and Washington statewide numbers was a bit more muted than I had initially expected. It could be growth did slow, or there was also an uptick in out-migration from Clark that lowered the net numbers. We need to see more data to know.

Fourth, one question I had ahead of the data was where and how the Census estimates would differ from the PSU ones. At a high level, Census was more pessimistic pretty much statewide with the things like the population losses in the Portland suburbs and a big slowing in Deschutes. Now, focusing purely on the year-to-year estimates can be a bit problematic due to the noise. But if we step back and look at the 2 years of the pandemic data overall you can see that PSU and Census are broadly in agreement in terms of changes from 2020 to 2022. Yes, Census sees slower growth for most counties, but Census also sees faster growth for 9 counties in the state, as seen in the blue bubbles in below.

Fifth, while it is important to focus on the big picture of the slower growth in Oregon during the pandemic, it’s not uniformly true that everywhere slowed down during the pandemic. 1 in 3 U.S. counties saw faster annual population growth in the past two years than they had averaged in the past couple of decades. These counties — including 11 in Oregon — are disproportionately those located in medium-sized metro areas (250,000 to 1 million population) and rural/nonmetro counties, especially those adjacent to metro areas. This is something I had noticed earlier this year when digging into both the Klamath and Malheur data, and it is even broader than that and across most of Eastern Oregon. This relatively faster growth can have big impacts at the local level in our communities across the state, even if the statewide numbers are slower.

Quick note: Our friends out in Connecticut recently switched from having 8 counties in their state to having 9 “planning regions”. This makes any county or historical work nationwide problematic. For now there is no data for the Constitution State in this map as a result.

As we continue to get more data, our office will work on updating our forecasts accordingly. We still expect population growth to rebound in 2023 and 2024. The real test will be the 2023 population estimates released by PSU this November, and by Census a year from now. The 2022 estimates, which are really July 1, 2021 to July 1, 2022, were still impacted by the pandemic. But another year of stagnant population could really start to make us rethink the longer-term outlook. Now, demographic forecast adjustments tend to be more gradual over time. Something like incorporating a lower birth rate takes time as it continues to drop a little bit each year. But one possibility our office could do would be to develop a full-fledged alternative scenario to gauge how a stagnant population would impact the economy and revenues in the decade ahead. We shall see what the future data holds and our advisors say. Also, stay tuned, I still have one more piece on Zoom Towns and pandemic migration coming.


  1. Reblogged this on Jenny Moody's Blog about Portland Life and Real Estate.

  2. […] Source: 5 Things about the 2022 County Population Estimates | Oregon Office of Economic Analysis […]

  3. […] all of the causes and effects is challenging, but as discussed the other day, we know that many medium sized metros and rural counties have seen faster population gains during […]

  4. […] all of the causes and effects is challenging, but as discussed the other day, we know that many medium sized metros and rural counties have seen faster population gains during […]

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