Oregon, Once a People Magnet, Saw Population Fall Again in 2023

If the trend continues through 2030, the state could lose its recently added sixth U.S. House seat, a think tank says.

McMinnville is part of Oregon's 6th Congressional District and home to the UFO Festival. (Michael Raines)

What does Oregon have in common with West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Louisiana?

They all lost population in the year ended July 1, 2023, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest estimates, along with California, Hawaii, Illinois and New York. The other 42 states added population as COVID-19 stopped killing people, the Census Bureau said.

Overall, the U.S. population grew by 1.6 million, or 0.5%, to 334,914,895, as more states showed an increase in population in 2023 than in any year since the pandemic began.

Which makes Oregon’s loss all the more striking.

In a state once a magnet for migrants from elsewhere in the U.S., Oregon’s population stagnated during the pandemic. Deaths outnumbered births by a larger margin than usual, and people left Portland, where taxes rose and urban woes intensified.

Overall, Oregon’s population fell by 6,021 people, or 0.14%, to 4,233,358. That’s the seventh-largest loss in the nation, just behind high-cost California at -0.19% and ahead of Rust Belt Pennsylvania at -0.08%.

The declines, though small, are dangerous for a state like Oregon, which has relied on in-migration for much of its economic growth. State economists say they are watching population figures closely because of the vast impact a permanent change in direction could have on taxes and budgets.

“Our office has spent a lot of time over the past year thinking through and modeling the potential economic and revenue impacts if migration does not return,” state economist Josh Lehner wrote on his agency’s blog. “We spent time discussing this with the Legislature at the most recent forecast release as well.”

If the downward trend continues through the next census in 2030, it could cost Oregonians some of their political power, the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute, said this week. Absent a turnaround, Oregon could lose the sixth seat in the U.S. House of Representatives it gained after the 2020 census, taking it back to five through the decennial reapportionment, the Brennan Center said.

“In the post-World War II era, the nation’s reapportionment story has largely been one of a steady shift of political power to Western and the Southern states at the expense of Northeastern and Midwestern states,” writers at the Brennan Center said. “Postwar domestic migration and immigration, for example, helped California more than double the size of its congressional delegation between 1940 and 2010. So far, the story this decade is shaping up to be different.”

In short, everyone is moving south, where taxes are lower and homes cheaper. South Carolina had the biggest percentage gain at 1.71% as it added 90,600 people, while Texas had the largest numeric increase at 473,453, followed by Florida at 365,205.

Oregon policymakers follow two main sources for population figures: the Census Bureau and Portland State University’s Population Research Center. Lately, the two have diverged. Earlier this month, PSU said Oregon’s population grew by 21,996, or 0.52%, to 4,291,525 in the year ended July 1.

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