PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – From July 2021 to July 2022, 21 of Oregon’s 36 counties lost residents and the state as a whole saw a population decline of more than 16,000 people, according to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The data was published Thursday and shows that many Oregon counties saw hundreds, in some cases thousands, of people move away. In neighboring Washington, however, the population only declined in three counties. In Idaho, it dropped in one county and rose in the rest of the state.
As for why so many people moved away from Oregon, that remains somewhat of a mystery, according to John Horvick, senior vice president of DHM Research in Portland.
“[When I] think about what could be driving it, a lot of the explanations that I’ve seen people give – homelessness, taxes, crime – are challenges that are present in Washington state. Housing costs are really high up in Washington. Housing costs have risen very rapidly in Idaho,” Horvick said.
In other words, Oregon’s neighboring states are seeing a lot of the same issues Oregon is seeing, but people are still choosing to move to them.
DHM Research is an independent research firm that studies the values and priorities that drive public opinion. As Horvick describes it, his job is to ask people what sort of communities they want to live in.
One issue he hears people complain about frequently is homelessness, particularly in the Portland metro area. But the population declines didn’t just occur in the three counties surrounding Portland: Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas. They also occurred in rural counties like Harney County, Morrow County and Union County.
“What we do know is that Oregonians are very upset with the direction of the state,” Horvick said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau data, no county in Oregon saw more people flee from 2021 to 2022 than Multnomah County, which had an estimated population decline of 10,510 – almost two-thirds of the total number of people who left the state.
Horvick says some of that decline could be due to the fact that Portland has a high number of white-collar jobs that allow people to work from home. When given the option, some people might choose to live in other places.
Another issue could be the reputation Portland gained over the last few years, especially in 2020 when racial justice demonstrations lasted for more than 100 days in the city and when former President Donald Trump scorned the city during his campaign.
“It’s at least possible that part of what we’re seeing in Multnomah County is just fewer people choosing to move here and then choosing to move somewhere else because of Portland’s reputation,” Horvick said.
Clark County in Washington, which is also considered part of the Portland metro area, saw a population increase of 4,191 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Whitman County in Washington was the county that saw the greatest percentage growth in the U.S., increasing 10.1% from 2021 to 2022.
Horvick said it’s easy to make generalizations using only one year of data, but warned that the population changes from 2021 to 2022 could be a blip and that only data from future years will determine whether this is an ongoing trend Oregon should be concerned about.
He also pointed out that the data from the U.S. Census Bureau is only an estimate based on a limited amount of survey data, which will have some margin of error.
State economists have pointed out in recent years that Oregon’s deaths have been outpacing its births, which means if the state hopes to continue to support its population and have enough people to fill jobs, it will need to rely on people to migrate to the state.
In the United States, the five counties that saw the greatest decline were Los Angeles County in California, Cook County in Illinois and Queens, Kings and Bronx counties in New York.