There's a lot of discussion these days about whether Portland is finished or will rebound after the pandemic ends and the plywood comes down.

State economist Josh Lehner, whose job it is to advise lawmakers on how much money they might have to spend, is not taking sides in that debate—but he is spending a lot of time looking at data that will help him and his colleagues predict how tax revenues will flow in the future.

Lehner pointed to a key factor in Oregon's ability to pay for vital services this week: the state's ability to attract migrants, specifically the young, well-educated workers that all cities covet because they spur economic growth.

"Oregon's population grows faster than most states'," Lehner writes. "These gains are primarily due to domestic migration patterns. Most people who move are 20- and 30-somethings. As such, migration provides an ample supply of mostly younger, mostly skilled labor that allows local businesses to hire and expand at faster rates."

Here's a somewhat complex chart of the components of population growth. The one Lehner focused on is that Oregon ranks seventh among states in terms of attracting in-migration from other states.

As Lehner noted earlier this week and The Oregonian first reported, Oregon's natural population growth rate—the number of births versus the number of deaths—moved into negative territory for the first time in recorded history in 2020, as more people died in the state than were born.

COVID-19 is the cause. But Lehner noted that because of the state's aging population and low birth rate, it was projected to happen in a few years even without the pandemic.

So why does reputation matter? If people who can choose to live anywhere no longer choose Oregon, that will impact government's ability to pay for services such as health care, education and public safety upon which most of us depend.

"Anything that affects or could potentially impact migration flows is something our office takes seriously," Lehner concludes. "The main reason being if population growth slows below forecast, all of Oregon's forecasts would need to be lowered; this goes for private sector business sales and public tax revenues alike."