Oregon News

Oregonians conflicted about population growth as urban population declines

By Anna Del Savio
Oregon Capital Bureau

Oregonians are conflicted about population growth, a new survey from the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center shows.

Just under half of Oregonians surveyed said population growth in the state is both a good and bad thing. Twenty percent said population growth was bad for the state, while 16% said it was good.

Oregonians named economic development and increased diversity as major benefits of population growth. Traffic, housing prices, and strains on public services and finite environmental resources were top reasons why Oregonians were against population growth.

One Lane County woman summed up the pros and cons of population growth, which many respondents cited, as “population growth is good for (the) economy but bad for the environment.”

Though many Oregonians voiced concerns about Oregon’s changing population, seven out of 10 said they liked living in the state and wanted to stay put.

Respondents cited the natural landscape and outdoor recreation as reasons they wanted to stay in Oregon.

Ethan Sharygin, Director of the Population Research Center at Portland State University, said the responses about housing, natural resources and outdoor recreation related to Oregon’s land use regulations.

“We’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of (Senate Bill) 100, which is responsible for much of the land use patterns that exist today,” Sharygin said. “In particular, the creation of urban growth boundaries which require cities to plan for growth and preserve much of the state’s open spaces for recreation and agriculture.”

Oregon was the first state to adopt the concept of urban growth boundaries, which aim to reduce urban sprawl, allowing cities to grow but keeping rural land — particularly farmland — rural.

SB 100 was also “a sign of a healthy bipartisan political atmosphere of the time,” which stuck out to Sharygin as something a number of the survey respondents felt the state now lacks.

Until last year, Oregon’s population was consistently growing each year for nearly three decades, according to Census Bureau data. But Oregon’s population dropped by more than 16,000 between July 2021 and July 2022, population estimates released by the Census Bureau show.

Portland State University’s Population Research Center has essentially the opposite estimate: A gain of 15,000 Oregonians in the same time period. But both the Population Research Center and the Census Bureau agreed Multnomah County’s population shrank.

The Population Research Center estimated Multnomah County lost roughly 2,300 residents over the year, while the Census Bureau estimated more than quadruple that number, newly released data shows.

In the survey, urban Oregonians were more likely than their rural counterparts to view growth positively, but even in urban areas, the percentage of Oregonians in favor or against growth was nearly equal.

Willamette Valley residents were slightly less likely to view population growth as a good thing, compared to the tri-county area of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties, and the rest of the state.

Men, people of color and college educated Oregonians were more likely to support population growth. (The survey did not have a large enough sample size to report reliable results for specific races or ethnicities, but compared results for people of color and white Oregonians.)

About 14% of respondents said they wanted to move to a different state.

High cost and low availability of housing, crime, insufficient social services and high taxes were among the reasons Oregonians cited for wanting to leave.

In addition to the natural landscape being a reason to stay, “it’s also a relatively safe state for me to be myself (trans femme),” one Lane County respondent said.

One Washington County man said that with major changes, Oregon could regain its status as a desirable place to live. “By leaving the state, I would be helping the hapless leaders that are ruining our state,” he said.

Among respondents who said there was a state that would be better to live in than Oregon, Idaho was the top pick. Washington was the second pick, followed by California and Montana. More than half of respondents who named a different state picked one in the west. Florida and Texas were the most popular picks outside the region.

Sharygin said the survey’s findings on states to move to were backed up by statistics on migration. Those states Oregonians picked “are the states that already send/receive a large number of migrants, so nothing exceptional,” Sharygin said. In 2022, Florida and Texas saw the largest numbers of residents moving in from other states, Census Bureau data shows. Idaho and Montana, at less than one-tenth the size of Florida or Texas, were among the nation’s highest domestic migration rates.

“In general, there is more migration between places that are closer to each other,” Sharygin said. “Most inter-state migration to/from the Portland metro area is either to the West Coast or PNW, or to big cities around the country, while rural areas have more localized and smaller net migration.”

Nationally, 68% of counties with 100,000 residents or more saw an increase in population between 2021 and 2022, according to the Census Bureau. Multnomah County, with an estimated 795,083 residents as of July 2022, was among the portion that lost residents.

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