Newcomers Moving To Portland Are Just As Poor As The Rest Of Us

Data from Oregon's state economist shows that Oregon tends to attract young, broke(ish) college-age migrants.

It's safe to say that Portland's real estate market has inflated to the point of being out of reach for many. And in the past decade the number of high-income households in Portland has increased dramatically.

Some people blame Californians. Others point to Portlandia's portrayal of the "keep it weird" city.

But hold the pitchforks and torches: Data recently released by Oregon's state economists suggests that newcomers moving to this state tend to be college age and lower income.

In short, people moving to Portland are just as poor as the rest of us.

"There is a very simple reason why the overall household trends aren't due to rich migrants moving to Oregon and plundering our quality of life," writes Josh Lehner, an economist for the state. "The reason is that the majority of newly arrived households actually have lower incomes than the households already living in Oregon. As such, it can't mathematically work out that migration trends are driving the growth in high-income households."

Data from the 2015 American Community Survey, included in the post, shows that the rate of migration to Portland is drastically higher for those ages 19 through 30 than other age groups. Alone, this is not an entirely unsurprising finding. Young people move more, whether for school or to start a new career post-graduation.

The fact that people moving to Portland tend to be young, likely college graduates, is significant because of the implied income level of that demographic, Lehner points out.

"Migration by itself lowers Oregon incomes in the short-run," he writes, "given migrants tend to be younger and less likely to be employed."

To be sure, there are more than a few new rich newcomers settling in. According to the data provided by the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, between 2011 and 2013 the average annual household income for the 35 to 54 migrant demographic was around $80,000. But the younger subset of transplants, who are more common, drag average household income levels down.

The median household income level for all people moving to the metro area has remained steady since 2005, falling between $40,000 and $50,000 annually.

What does this all mean? Lehner summarizes, "Regarding housing affordability, yes, migration does add to demand, but the biggest issue in recent years has been the lack of supply and the reasons why."

In a follow-up post, Lehner does suggest that because most of the young people moving to Portland are college graduates, they will likely enter into careers with higher income trajectories and affect the housing market on a long-term scale.

Short-term, however, the fact remains that both long-time Portlanders and out-of-town newbies are in need of housing. But the city has notoriously struggled to keep up with that demand. And many residents continue to fight new development.

So welcome to Portland, new transplants. Good luck finding a place to live.