Head Out on the Highway: Union County Commuter Data - 2019

by Christopher Rich

January 31, 2022

The thought of commuting to work may conjure images of the Westside’s urban sprawl and life in the big city. However, living in one town and working in another is common among Oregon’s rural workforce as well. The U.S. Census Bureau provides data on workforce commute patterns with its On-The-Map tool. The most recent data reveals that 25% of Union County’s workforce came from outside the county in 2019 while 30% of workers living in Union commuted to jobs in a different county. 

It’s common for workers to commute to or from neighboring counties. In 2019, 46.1% of Union County’s inbound commuters came from the four counties that make up its border. Umatilla County held the top spot, shipping 20.5% of all inbound commuters. Baker County was a close second shipping 18.0% of commuters. Umatilla County supplied 5.1% of Union’s total workforce (largely from Pendleton and Hermiston) while Baker supplied 4.5% of the workforce (largely from Baker City). Wallowa supplied 1.7% of the workforce and Grant supplied 0.3%.

The four neighboring counties served as the destination for 36.9% of Union’s outbound commuters. Umatilla held the top spot here as well receiving 21.0% of all outbound commuters. Baker was a more distant second receiving 10.3% of commuters. For workers who reside in Union County, Umatilla supplied 6.3% of jobs (largely in Pendleton and Hermiston). Baker County supplied 3.1% of jobs (largely in Baker City). Wallowa and Grant counties supplied 1.5% and 0.2% of jobs, respectively.
The majority of Union County commuters lived or worked beyond the four neighboring counties in 2019. At least three-fourths of Union commuters, however, still lived and worked in Oregon. Lane, Deschutes, and Clackamas counties were high on the list of where Union commuters lived. Multnomah, Marion, and Deschutes counties were high on the list of where commuters worked. Benton County, Washington, home to Richland and Kennewick, and Walla Walla County, Washington were also high on the list for work. The majority of commuters outside of Oregon were tied to Washington and Idaho. Washington shipped 8.1% of Union County commuters while receiving 15.7%. Idaho shipped 7.0% of Union County commuters while receiving 4.9%.

It may be difficult to imagine commuting more than one or two hours for work. However, commuting is not limited to the arduous daily drive. While On-The-Map commute data doesn’t tell us how commutes occurred or how long commuters stayed for work, several scenarios are possible and likely. Commuters can be full or partial telecommuters, working for a firm outside their county of residence and infrequently making a physical commute. Home based call center employees and outside sales representatives are examples of occupations that fit this scenario. Commuters can commute for extended shifts, short stays, or even seasons, traveling to where the job demand is and returning home when the work is complete. Nurses and physicians are examples of extended shift or short stay occupations. Commuters with either of these occupations could work for a two or three day shift and then return home for three or four days. Forest fire fighters along with certain agriculture workers are examples of seasonal positions that require extended stays, but might not encourage year round residence.   

The accompanying table provides some additional points of interest. Union County exports more workers than the county imports. The largest share of commuters leaving the county earned more than $3,333 a month. The largest share of commuters entering the county earned more than $3,333 a month as well. In addition, the largest share of commuters in either direction were 30 to 54 years old. On-The-Map can provide details not contained in this report or the table, so check out the data tool or drop me a line if you have any questions.

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