Oregon’s 2019 Natural Population Increase Was the Lowest on Record

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By Sarah Cunningham

In 2019, Oregon’s population increased by 41,100 to 4,236,400. This marked growth of 1.0 percent over the year, and growth of 10.6 percent since the 2010 Census. Portland State University’s Population Research Center recently released more detailed information on why this population growth has occurred.

There are two main reasons that lead to population change. First, an area increases in population if more births than deaths occur in a given year or vice versa. Second, population can increase or decrease through net migration. That is, over the year, people either move into or out of an area. A positive value of net migration means more people moving into an area than leaving it, while a negative value of net migration indicates more people leaving an area than moving in.

In 2019, natural increase contributed 5,942 to population growth, which was the lowest since comparable records began in 1960. The low natural increase is caused by an increase in the number of deaths (36,200), which was the third highest total since 1960. In 2017 and 2018, there were 36,800 and 36,600 deaths in Oregon, respectively. Since 2011, Oregon had a relatively low natural increase compared with the prior four decades.

Oregon Continues to Attract Migrants

With 35,200 net migrants, a lot of Oregon’s population increase in 2019 was due to net migration. Over the past 20 years, Oregon had an average net migration of 28,900 people per year. The lowest number of net migrants over the last 20 years was 7,000 in 2010. In general, we see net migrants increase as the economy expands and more jobs become available. Notice that prior to the Great Recession, net migration was booming in Oregon. As the recession hit, people became less mobile. This, combined with Oregon experiencing a deeper recession than the nation as a whole, brought net migration to its lowest levels since the 1980s. The current economic crisis driven by public health restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic will almost certainly cause migration to fall in 2020. For more on the link between migration and economic growth, visit Damon Runberg’s article Migration in Oregon Before the Days of COVID.

From 2010 to 2019, Oregon’s net migration gain was 316,300, which made up three-quarters of the population gain. The net migration gain in metro areas of the state was 275,500, which accounted for 88 percent of total net migration gains in the state. Since 84 percent of Oregonians live in a metro area, this gain suggests the share of Oregonians living in metro areas is increasing.
While metro areas in Oregon grew 11.7 percent between 2010 and 2019, rural areas grew only 5.0 percent. In some cases, counties saw a decline in population. Declines can occur due to losses through both natural decrease and net migration, or one of the two factors outweighing the other.

Two counties in Oregon lost population between 2010 and 2019: Harney and Grant, losing 0.8 percent and 1.1 percent of population, respectively. Both counties experienced a natural decrease in population. Harney County also experienced a decrease in population due to negative net migration. Wheeler County had a negligible population decrease of one person.

Fifteen counties in Oregon had a natural decrease in population between 2010 and 2019. In addition to the two counties that lost population, Josephine, Douglas, Coos, Curry, Lincoln, Tillamook, Baker, Crook, Wallowa, Lake, Wasco, Wheeler, and Jackson had more deaths than births between 2010 and 2019. Gilliam and Sherman had a negligible natural decrease in population between 2010 and 2019.
These 15 counties that experienced a natural decrease in population were home to 23 percent of Oregon’s 65-and-over population in 2019. But, these counties only made up 16 percent of Oregon’s entire population. The average share of the population 65 and over in these 15 counties was 25 percent compared with the 18 percent share for the state as a whole. The disproportionate share of people 65 and over in the 15 counties was a major factor in their natural population decrease.

Population Estimates by Age and Sex

The Population Research Center at Portland State University prepares annual population estimates for Oregon and its counties by age and sex, and incorporated cities and towns as of July 1 each year. These estimates serve as the official population numbers between each decennial Census, and are used to disburse state revenues to Oregon counties and cities.

To explore and use population estimates data for 2019 and prior years for Oregon and its counties, visit www.pdx.edu/prc/population-reports-estimates.


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