New Census Numbers Show Portland’s Population Dropped by Over 11,000 People From 2020 to 2021

The housing supply grew faster in counties surrounding Multnomah County than in it.

THIS AMERICAN LIFE: Houseboats on the Willamette River in Sellwood. (Morgan Green-Hopkins)

Portland had 11,000 fewer residents on July 1, 2021, than it did that same day in 2020.

That’s according to new U.S. Census Bureau data released Thursday morning, which shows that Portland’s population dropped from 652,000 in 2020 to 641,000 in 2021—a 1.7% decrease.

That’s a steeper decline in population than either the greater Portland metro area or Multnomah County experienced during the same year. Those numbers, which WW first reported in March, indicated people were leaving Portland. The new numbers drill down to the city proper.

But the numbers don’t show a large-scale flight to the suburbs. Some suburbs of Portland gained a smattering of residents, like Beaverton and Ridgefield, Wash. Vancouver, Wash., grew modestly, too, as did Bend.

Over half of the 30 most populous cities in the United States had a drop in population. But few were as steep as Portland’s. San Jose, New York City and Los Angeles all had steep drops alongside Portland. National analysts have linked the urban population declines to housing costs, as WW has reported.

Many suburbs of Portland have housing markets that are now more expensive than the city itself. Some demographers suspect prospective homebuyers are shopping farther from the city as prices rise—and landing in places like Rhododendron.

The suburbs are also building homes faster than Portland is. There’s an estimated 2,500 more housing units in Multnomah County in 2021 than there were the year before, according to the data. Washington County added 3,000 more housing units, even though it has a population about 200,000 fewer than Multnomah County. Clackamas County added 2,000 more units.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.