Portland Vs. California: What’s Driving Migration in 2021?

It’s old news that Californians love Portland, and a lot of them have been moving here! It’s a trend that’s been going strong for many years now, sometimes to the chagrin of native Portlanders. According to the Oregon Employment Department, Oregon saw an average net in-migration of 21,784 Californians every year from 2014-2018.

While there’s no denying that’s a huge number, it doesn’t mean they all came to Portland. As we found last year, Portland isn’t receiving a disproportionate number of California migrants. Rather, Oregon saw population growth statewide.

But as we all know, 2020 was an unusual year. Covid-19 has affected so many aspects of our lives, but what about moving? It’s impossible to understand migration to Portland from California without examining whether shelter in place really stopped people from relocating.

Did Covid-19 Stop People from Moving in 2020?

The short answer is no. The National Association of Realtors reports that 8.93 million people moved homes from March to October of 2020. That’s an increase of 94,000 from the same period in 2019. If these numbers surprise you – weren’t we all just stuck inside during the pandemic? – we have a theory for you.

The NAR data, which analyzes Postal Service change of address data, shows that the most moves happened at the beginning of the pandemic. While many lament being forced to work from home, remote working also frees a lot of employees to move somewhere further from the workplace. Whether folks chose to move closer to family members or to seek out a more affordable area, it’s possible that remote working kept migration going strong.

There is some localized data to support this theory. According to the NAR, the most drastic migration patterns were from major cities like New York (which, remember, was the epicenter of the US crisis early on) to quieter suburbs. For example, 29% of New Yorkers who moved went to the Hamptons, which suggests that those with means may have sought out more space to wait out the pandemic.

However, we found that flight from the city did not happen in Portland in 2020. So what about Oregon? Are Californians still coming in droves?

Who Moved to Oregon in 2020?

Well, some things don’t change. The Postal Service study shows that Californians made up a whopping 56.2% of people who moved to Oregon from March to October of 2020. Idaho and Washington come in second and third with 21% and 17.6% respectively.

Graph of top destinations for people who moved out of California, and who moved to Oregon

On the other hand, though, Oregon actually came in 3rd place in the list of top destinations for people leaving California. Texas and Nevada top the list, both seeing over double the number of migrants as Oregon.

So we aren’t alone. But it’s safe to say that California is still giving Oregon a population boost – and like it or not, this is good for Oregon’s economy. For years now Oregon has seen the gap between number of births and number of deaths narrowing. This trend continued in 2020.

Chart of births minus deaths in Oregon 1998 through 2020

The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis lists Oregon as the 7th fastest growing state. However, we rank 45th when it comes to birth rates. What makes up the difference is migration, the influx of young people who enter the workforce and enrich the economy. We’ve written here before about the coming “Silver Tsunami,” in which we expect retiring Baby Boomers to leave their single family homes. Given the numbers cited above, we may need people relocating from out of state to keep Oregon’s economy thriving where it is today.

Did Californians Invade Portland in 2020?

Yes and no. According to the NAR report, the vast majority of migration in the Portland metro area was fairly internal. 65.5% of people who moved to Multnomah County came from Clackamas County. Weird right? Our first inclination is jobs. Jobs are still easier to come by in the Portland metro area than in Clackamas County’s sprawling rural areas. Washington County took second place, sending 29.9% of Multnomah County’s new residents. Similar patterns appear in the surrounding counties. For example, 65.8% of migrants to Washington County moved from Multnomah County.

That being said, these same three counties all saw significant numbers of new residents coming from California. 2.3% of Multnomah County’s migration came from Los Angeles County. While that’s a much smaller percentage than what we see with local counties, it’s still a significant number to come from just one out of state county. (And that number doesn’t reflect all of California migration.) Washington County saw an even bigger percentage of Los Angeles transplants at 3.6%. One can speculate that the so-called Silicon Forest of Portland’s suburbs remains an attractive (and lucrative) destination for Californians seeking a more affordable city.

How does Portland match up with other parts of Oregon? It’s hard to get hands on extremely specific data, but Oregon as a whole has been growing. Bend in particular is reporting an increase in demand, with people moving in from other parts of the state and country. It even garnered a new nickname – “Zoom Town,” reflecting the number of people who are moving there to work remotely while enjoying the outdoors. Portland State University’s Population Research Center data reveals Bend’s population increased 2% from 2019 to 2020. That’s about double that of the Portland Metro Area for the same period.

What to Expect from Portland Migration in 2021

As exciting as it is to have vaccines rolling out across the country, public health officials don’t expect us to fully return to business as usual until much later in the year. So while the pandemic makes everything more unpredictable, we don’t expect migration patterns to change much this year from what we saw in 2020.

Portland remains a desirable area for interstate migration – and yes, that will continue to include Californians. Portland’s high-tech companies have remained one of the strongholds of the Oregon economy throughout the pandemic and will continue to attract skilled labor. Portland isn’t seeing the great boom in growth it saw earlier in the decade. But with steady growth and homes still in high demand, migration from out of state will likely continue.

Whether you want to take advantage of Portland’s desirability by selling your home or by finding a new home of your own, we’re ready to work hard for you. Check out our top 1% buyers agents and our top 1% sellers agents today.

February 8, 2021

Stephen FitzMaurice

Stephen FitzMaurice, Realtor is a top 5% real estate agent in the U.S. A Principal Broker in Oregon, Managing Broker in Washington, he has been licensed since 2003 for residential real estate sales. Call his team in Oregon at 503-714-1111 or in Washington at 360-345-3833.

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