For the first time since the dreary timber downturn of the 1980s, more people left Oregon than moved here in 2022, according to new numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The fresh figures confirm an exodus from Portland and the state that’s been in the news for months.
Oregon’s population fell a fraction of a percentage point to 4,240,137 in 2022 from 4,246,155 in 2021. But for a state accustomed to growing like a Coast Range Douglas fir, it’s an alarming change in direction, and one that could hurt the state’s economy and budget if it persists.
Most of the exodus occurred from Multnomah County. According to census figures, there were 795,083 people here in 2022, down 8,294, or 1%, from 803,377 in 2021.
“By now we all know that Census estimates that Oregon lost population in 2022 for the first time in two generations,” state economist Josh Lehner wrote in his blog today. “But until this morning we had zero details on who moved into and moved out of the state.”
The answer is that people of all kinds left, Lehner wrote: “The negative net migration was pretty much across the board. It is, roughly, half children and half adults, half college graduates and half non-college graduates, it is nearly 50/50 for white non-Hispanic and BIPOC, it is negative across all broad income groups, and so on.”
Conventional wisdom says that people tend to leave cities like Portland as they grow older. But Oregon lost working-age adults and children, Lehner wrote, “an indication that families on net left the state.”
Multnomah County drove Oregon’s losses. No other county shed more citizens, according to the Census Bureau. John Horvick, senior vice president at polling firm DHM Research, says people are leaving Portland because of high crime, high cost of living, high taxes, and a homelessness crisis.
“People in Portland and Multnomah County are really frustrated,” Horvick says. “My best guess is that people are looking at conditions and and making decisions with their feet and their dollars.”
Multnomah County’s pain may have been Clark County, Washington’s gain. The tax haven across the Columbia River added 5,375 residents in 2022, a gain of about 1%. Washington state has no income tax, while Oregon’s top marginal rate is 9.9%. Multnomah County assesses special taxes for preschool education; the Metro regional government levies one for homeless services.