Mar 25, 2024 - News

Portland's population continues to shrink

Change in population, 2020 to 2023
Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

Multnomah County lost nearly 27,000 residents from 2020 to 2023 — a 3.3% drop in population, according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Why it matters: After nearly a decade of sustained growth — the Portland metro area grew 13% between 2010 and 2020 — the region is experiencing an exodus of residents who are seeking affordable housing and a lower cost of living.

By the numbers: Among large metro areas, Portland ranked 108 out of 132 for population growth from 2020 to 2023.

  • Nearly 790,000 people lived in Multnomah County as of July, per census data. That's down roughly 4,900 from 2022.
  • The county's population stood at nearly 817,000 in July 2020. And as the pandemic spurred many Oregonians to rethink both their living and work situations, the state's housing crisis only worsened.

Driving the news: Data was released earlier this month for the Census Bureau's annual Population Estimates Program, which calculates the population between censuses.

Between the lines: The biggest factor in out-migration could be as simple as the pursuit of cheaper housing.

  • According to a 2022 analysis by economist Josh Lehner, around 50% of out-migrant households from Portland's tri-county area went to regions with less expensive housing than here — like central Oregon, Washington, Texas and Arizona.

The intrigue: Crook County and Deschutes County saw the state's biggest bumps in population — 8.1% and 4.5%, respectively.

  • Our neighbors to the north, Clark County, Washington, saw a 3.1% increase in population from 2020 to 2023.

Caveat: "Housing prices are high in Portland because housing demand is high," Jake Procino, an economist with the Oregon Employment Department, tells Axios. "People want to live in Portland ­— but there isn't enough housing supply to meet the need."

The big picture: A shrinking population strains a region's economy.

  • There are fewer people in the labor force for companies to tap into when they need to hire and fewer people spending money within the local economy.
  • Plus, "the number of taxpaying individuals shrinks, which can lead to a decline in government services, such as school closures," Procino says.

What we're watching: Earlier this month, the Oregon Legislature approved Gov. Tina Kotek's housing package, which dedicates $376 million to housing production efforts via incentives for developers and policy changes to help expand urban growth boundaries.


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