Aug 16, 2023 - News

Portland exodus cost Multnomah County $1 billion

Net change in income from migration, 2020 to 2021
Reproduced from Economic Innovation Group analysis of IRS data; Map: Axios Visuals

Those who've moved away from Portland in recent years for greener pastures — with affordable housing or lower crime rates — have left a large dent financially.

Driving the news: Migration out of Multnomah County between 2020 and 2021 caused a $1.1 billion drop in adjusted gross income, according to a new analysis of tax data from the nonpartisan Economic Innovation Group.

Why it matters: Portland depends on residents' incomes to support the local housing market, retail sales and the tax base.

The big picture: When millions of Americans rethought their living situations during the pandemic, their moves changed the geography of where money is made in the U.S.

  • The analysis quantifies why some of America's biggest cities are struggling to rebuild their economies post-pandemic.
  • Not only did people leave Portland and other big cities, but those who left had disproportionately high incomes — meaning the hit to the local economies was larger than migration numbers alone might imply.

Of note: The EIG data only runs through 2021. Based on other evidence, the trends may have eased but not reversed since then, Connor O'Brien, who conducted the analysis, said.

What they're saying: Andrew Fitzpatrick, an economic adviser to Mayor Ted Wheeler, told Axios that people leave Portland due to "a combination of factors that affect their sense of what they pay to live here, taxes-wise, and what they get in return, services-wise."

  • Earlier this summer, Wheeler held a meeting with regional leaders to address the city's "cumulative" tax burden on citizens.

Zoom in: Those leaving Multnomah County aren't going far; the vast majority of out-migration is to nearby places.

  • While Portland has welcomed those moving here from more expensive cities, that doesn't offset the number of residents leaving, Josh Lehner, an economist for the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, wrote in a recent blog post examining consumer credit reports from the first quarter of this year.
  • "Portland appears to be continuing to lose residents in the urban core, while the metro level is now treading water," he added. Plus, because of declining births, "any population growth in the years ahead will have to come from migration."

The bottom line: State economists Axios spoke with predict the populations of Multnomah and Washington counties, as well as Oregon as a whole, will keep declining as deaths continue to outnumber births.

  • Experts will get a better picture of how out-migration and population decline affect the state's economic growth when Portland State University releases its annual population estimates next year.
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