Here’s The Oregonian’s weekly look at the numbers behind the state’s economy. See previous installments here.
Oregon added less than 32,000 residents last year, the slowest growth in a decade – since the last recession, in fact.
It is not a coincidence. Migration generally slows down in Oregon and elsewhere during sharp economic downturns. The same was true during the Great Recession, notes Sarah Cunningham, economist with the Oregon Department of Employmentand during the major recessions that Oregon experienced in the early 1980s.
Last year, however, there was another key factor: Deaths outnumbered births for the first time in Oregon history.
The same was true in 25 other states, according to Charles Rynerson of the Center for Population Research at Portland State University. In Oregon, preliminary figures indicate that 315 more people have died than those born in 2020.
Oregon’s “natural population increase” has slowed for years, reflecting an aging population and declining birth rates. Rynerson notes that births in Oregon peaked at 50,000 babies in 2007, up from around 40,000 last year.
Economists had long anticipated that deaths in Oregon would outnumber births, but that milestone reached years earlier than expected.
One of the main reasons was COVID-19. Even though the pandemic accounted for just 4% of the 40,000 deaths in Oregon in 2020, it was a substantial part of the 7% increase in the total number of deaths.
Last year was actually the third year in a row that Oregon had experienced slower population growth, reversing a strong upward trajectory that began in 2012. In an analysis last monthEmployment Department economist Damon Runberg said the slowing labor market and rising house prices are the most likely explanations for the pre-pandemic slowdown.
“Although Oregon’s housing market remains more affordable than that of neighbors to the north or south,” Runberg wrote, “many of the region’s larger metropolitan areas are losing the competitive edge ‘at low cost’ .
Population growth was vital to the remarkable economic boom Oregon enjoyed in the decade following the Great Recession. The smart young migrants have supported the state by bringing in new skills and attracting employers in search of their abilities.
So as migration clogs freeways and further intensifies competition for Oregon homes, it is also critical for the state’s rebound from the pandemic recession. Despite the higher prices, Runberg said Oregon remains an attraction – if only because other West Coast hot spots are even more crowded.
“Once the health crisis is brought under control and consumer confidence rebounds, our migration patterns will likely return to normal levels,” he wrote. “Oregon will remain attractive from a quality of life perspective, and there is every reason to believe that Oregon’s economy will recover as quickly as the national economy.”