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As Oregon’s population declines for first time in 30 years, state economist warns of revenue loss

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USA states on map: Oregon

New national estimates show Oregon is losing population, as deaths outpace births and fewer people move here from other states.

The preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, released Thursday, are alarming state economists.

“There’s not a single silver lining in the numbers ...,” said Josh Lehner, an economist with the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. “I’m much more pessimistic right now than I’ve been in the last two-and-a-half years, from a demographic and population perspective.”

Oregon’s population decreased by over 16,000 people between July 2021 and July 2022, a 0.4% drop from the previous year. This marks the first time Oregon has seen a population decrease since 1983. That year, the state experienced 0.4% population decline after having already experienced a 0.1% population decline in 1982.

The 2022 decline appears to come from a drop in people moving to Oregon. Since deaths usually outpace births in Oregon, the state has relied on migration to boost its population numbers. But this year, Oregon had a negative 17,000 net domestic migration compared to last year — meaning 17,000 more people left Oregon than moved here.

That might sound like good news to Oregonians who are tired of competing for jobs and housing with out-of-staters. But Lehner said Oregon needs this growth to support local businesses, as well as to grow tax revenues that fund public services like transportation, roads, public health and education.

It also means Oregon economists might need to seriously rethink the math in their economic forecasts, which give lawmakers an idea of how much money they can spend on public programs in the years ahead. The most recent statewide forecast, released in November, expected a positive net migration of 33,757 in 2022 — a sharp difference from the reality. It also calculated state revenues based on a total population of 4.3 million people, about 54,000 more people than the census’s current estimates.

Lehner said housing affordability could be one factor playing into Oregon’s declining migration.

“We have terrible housing affordability, but it hadn’t yet been a huge driver of the [population] trends — unlike, say, our neighbors to the south in California, where they’ve been losing lower-income households and middle-income households for quite a long time.”

It’s possible Oregon could be going the way of California in terms of losing low- and middle-income households to states with more affordable housing, but Lehner said it’s too soon to tell. He said he’s waiting to see 2023 numbers, as well as more detailed data surveys that could provide some insight into the trend.

In addition to Oregon, 17 other states experienced population decline — many in the Northeast. New York had the largest numeric and percentage population decline, seeing a 0.9% drop from the previous year.

Oregon, California and New Mexico are the only western states to have population declines in 2022. Washington and Nevada had slight population increases, while the biggest growth happened more inland: Idaho, Montana, Utah and Arizona all appear to have significant growth.

Nationally, southern states are seeing the largest population increases, particularly Texas and Florida.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

April Ehrlich began freelancing for Jefferson Public Radio in the fall of 2016, and then officially joined the team as its Morning Edition Host and a Jefferson Exchange producer in August 2017.