Population Growth and Trends in Northwest Oregon

by Erik Knoder

May 11, 2020

Natural population growth turned negative in Northwest Oregon as older, rural counties record more deaths than births.

Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties combined to record 272 more deaths than births from July 2018 through June 2019. The chart shows the natural increase (births minus deaths) in the combined population of Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties. The natural increase underwent a long-term decline in the region throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Although the number of births has exceeded the number of deaths for most years, the region seems to be starting a new trend that reverses that.

The decrease in natural population change in 2019 was a further drop from the previous year and a change from most recent years that have had small natural increases. Four of the counties – Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook – had more deaths than births. Only Benton County had more births than deaths. Benton County is also by far the largest of the five counties.
Benton County is often the outlier in Northwest Oregon. It has the largest percentage of people ages 18 to 64 and thousands of college students, and it is the only complete metro area in the region. The county had 672 births and 608 deaths from July 2018 through June 2019 for a net natural increase of 64 people.

Columbia County has a population age distribution that is fairly similar to the state’s distribution. The county had 460 births and 506 deaths over the time period for a net natural decrease of 46. The natural population change in Columbia County fluctuates to an unusual degree from year to year, primarily due to swings in the number of births in the county. The county has had natural decreases in population only three times in the past 20 years.

Clatsop County had a natural decrease of 18 over the year. The county is more rural in character and older than Benton and Columbia counties. In recent years, the county has fluctuated between small natural increases and decreases in population. Clatsop County had 372 births and 390 deaths over the 12 months.

Lincoln County had a substantial natural population loss of 251 from July 2018 through June 2019. Natural population loss is traditionally the case for both Lincoln and Tillamook counties, which are notable for their older-aged populations. About 29 percent of Lincoln County’s population is 65 or older, and it has the oldest population of the five counties in Northwest Oregon. Lincoln County had 387 births and 638 deaths over the year.

Tillamook County had a net natural decrease of 21 people – its small drop in six years. Twenty-six percent of Tillamook County’s population is age 65 or older and the county has had a net natural decrease in population in 19 of the past 20 years. Tillamook County had 248 births and 269 deaths over the year.

Migration

Net immigration, mostly from surrounding counties, also adds to the region’s population. It slowed during the Great Recession then picked up again since 2011. In 2006, net migration was about 2,500. By 2010, it was down to 271 people. In 2018, it was at 2,652. This was down from 3,022 the previous year, but it remained one of the higher years for migration. All five counties had net in-migration, and migration accounts for the majority of the population growth in the region.

Future population growth within the region will be governed not just by employment opportunities, but also by the quality of life, affordability, commuting times, and a host of other reasons. The Corvallis metro area, the coastal areas and the parts of Columbia County close to the Portland metro area usually grow the fastest.

Based on estimates and projections provided by the Population Research Center and the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, Northwest Oregon’s population was 259,295 in 2018 and is expected to be almost 271,515 when 2025 rolls around.


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