Census Participation

by Charles Rynerson

change in census responseIn 2010, the Census Bureau focused outreach in hard- to-count (HTC) census tracts, based on data from the 2000 census. Twelve variables that were correlated with nonresponse rates in 1990 and 2000 were used to derive  the HTC score:

  • Housing: % vacant, % multi-family,% renter, % crowded;
  • Households: % not husband/wife, % linguistically isolated, % no phone, % recent movers, % public assistance;
  • Persons: % below poverty, % unemployed, % not HS graduate

Census workers have to conduct more costly door-to- door visits to count households that did not mail back their form. Changes in the mail response rate may reflect the success of outreach efforts or may have resulted from  demographic shifts that the 10 year old data used to determine the HTC score could not account for.

The census tracts with the lowest mail response rates in the 2000 Census were within N/NE Portland’s Humboldt, King, Boise, and Eliot neighborhoods, Central Portland’s Old Town, and Central Beaverton and Hillsboro. These tracts all had mail response rates below 65%. Statewide response rates were 77% in Oregon and 75% in Washington.

In 2010, the lowest response rates were largely in Multnomah County neighborhoods east of I-205, with the very lowest in North Gresham, at 64% and in Fairview/Wood Village, at 63%. Statewide 2010 response rates were 76% in both Oregon and Washington, nearly identical to the 2000 rates in both states.

Most of the biggest increases were in the Beaverton/Hillsboro area, SW Portland, and Inner N/NE Portland.  For example, a census tract that includes portions of the Humboldt and Piedmont neighborhoods in N/NE Portland increased from 71% in 2000 to 85% in 2010. Most of the biggest drops in mail response occurred within Multnomah County east of I-205, including a census tract in NE Portland’s Argay Terrace neighborhood where mail response dropped from 89% to 72%.  census response 2000-2010

Life Expectancy

Life expectancy is an estimate of the average age that a person can expect to live. Within the United States, life expectancy has increased since 1900 by roughly thirty years due to public health interventions (e.g., sanitation, vaccinations) and medical advancements.(1) However, life expectancy can vary significantly even within small geographies due to differences in our social and physical environments. Where we live, work, and play is equally, if not more, important to our health and well-being than our individual choices and access to health care.(2)

Using Center for Disease Control data, we can visualize the spatial distribution of life expectancy estimates. For reference, the life expectancy of an average adult within the United States born in 2016 is 78.6 years.(3) In the Portland Metropolitan region, 34 percent of the population lives in tracts with an average life expectancy below the United States average. These tracts are clustered largely in east Portland and Gresham. Future research should consider exploring other factors related to life expectancy such as race, income, and education.(4)

1. David Cutler, Angus Deaton and Adriana Lleras-Muney, “The Determinants of Mortality,” Journal of Economic Perspective, 20 no. 3, (2006), 97–120.

2. Theodor R. R. Marmor, Morris L. Barer, and Robert G. Evans, Why Are Some People Healthy and Others Not? The Determinants of Health of Populations (Social Institutions and Social Change), (New Jersey: Aldine Transaction, 1994).

3. Jiaquin Xu et al., “Final data for 2016.” National Vital Statistics Reports, 67 no. 5, (Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 2018).

4. Robert A. Hummer and Elaine M Hernandez, “The Effect of Educational Attainment on Adult Mortality in the United States,” Population Bulletin 68 no. 1 (2013), 1–16; US National Center for Health Statistics, Report No.: 2012-12322012, (Hyattsville, MD, May 2012).


This issue’s interview with Oregon Global Warming Commission Chairman Angus Duncan and articles about the Columbia River Crossing and Willamette River Transit Bridge spurred us here at Metroscape® magazine to take a closer look at the area’s transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2010, transportation accounted for a quarter of metropolitan Portland’s emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases — about 31 million metric tons total — according to a Metro inventory. Cars and light trucks accounted for about 14 percent of the total, while transit (e.g., diesel buses and light-rail trains) accounted for 0.01 percent. Other “passenger transport” sources — including aircraft, inter-city trains, and cars and trucks making long-distance trips across the urban growth boundary — accounted for 10 percent of the area’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

The transportation sector accounted for about 37 percent of Oregonians’ greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2010 state inventory. Light-vehicles accounted for about two-thirds of transportation-sector emissions. Oregon is growing, but will its carbon footprint track with its population? Not necessarily.

Metro forecasts that the population of Portland’s seven-county statistical area — which includes Clackamas, Clark, Columbia, Multnomah, Skamania, Washington, and Yamhill counties — will likely range between 2.9 million and 3.2 million in 2030 and between 3.6 million and 4.4 million in 2060. The State of Oregon, meanwhile, has set a target of reducing emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 75 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

So how do we grow sustainably? The Oregon Legislature passed legislation in 2009 (H.B. 2001) that requires Metro to develop alternative land-use and transportation scenarios that accommodate planned population and employment growth while reducing emissions from light-duty motor vehicles. In 2014, Metro is slated to adopt a preferred alternative for such strategies, which help advance implementation of the agency’s 2040 Growth Concept.

The transportation sector also figures heavily in the Oregon Global Warming Commission’s “roadmap” for reducing the state’s carbon footprint during the next decade. The commission’s draft recommendations for policymakers include: expanding urban transit, keeping urban footprints compact, managing and pricing parking, supporting electric vehicles, and adopting a low-carbon fuel standard (http://tinyurl.com/7ej9d4e).

Michael Burnham is a graduate student in the PSU Masters of Urban and Regional Planning program.


by Scott Burns
Professor of Geology, Portland State University

Radon is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that comes out of the ground from the breakdown of uranium. It is naturally occurring in the soil in very small quantities. Concentrations in the soil vary based on different geological origins of the soil, so radon rates going into houses depend upon where the house is sited. The gas leaks through the foundations of the homes and collects in houses. EPA tells us that radon gas is the number two cause of lung cancer in humans behind smoking and that 20% of lung cancer cases are attributable to radon. It is a health hazard. Meanwhile homes and buildings have become more tightly sealed with the advent of energy conservation. This can lead to increased levels of radon in the living space.

Power companies did extensive testing of homes in the 1980’s to determine levels of radon. My students and I analyzed the Portland data in 1994 from over 1100 homes and then again updated their research in 2004 with information from another 600 homes. The map below shows the updated areas where radon emanation is high (dark red), medium (medium red) and low (tan) in the Portland area. Most of the Portland area rates low in radon potential because the common bedrock is basalt which is low in uranium. The high areas are where houses are on Missoula Flood sediments. They had their ultimate origins from granite bedrock that is traditionally high in uranium, and in Portland these soils are very permeable allowing the radon gases to flow easily into basements. radon map


foreclosure maps 2009Foreclosures began to affect the USA two to three years ago when homes stopped increasing in value each year and when “toxic” loans began coming due. Foreclosures became even more of a problem after unemployment soared in late 2008 due to the recession. While the Portland-Vancouver region has not seen a foreclosure problem on the scale of other markets, there has been strong foreclosure activity here in the last two years. Foreclosures affect both the families involved and the market overall because all homes lose value as the supply of low-priced and vacant properties increases.

The maps show the distribution of foreclosure activity by zip code in 2009. After a notice is mailed, there can be anywhere from three to six months before the foreclosure happens. The homeowner may sell the house or make other arrangements to prevent a foreclosure. The maps indicate a pattern in which areas with more recent growth have relatively high levels of foreclosure-related activity. In addition, bank reversions appear to be concentrated in outer southeast Portland, east of I-205, and at the fringes of the metroscape in Clackamas, Clark, and Columbia counties.

The time series graph shows the total number of foreclosure notices and bank reversions in the 7-county region (including Skamania County, Washington) by month. Here we see the climb since the end of the real estate bubble in mid 2007. For notices, we see a peak in late 2008 and a subsequent decline; the problem shows no sign of subsiding soon, however. With bank reversions the trend is upward, a cause for concern regarding a possible market recovery.

Webb Sprague

School Meals

In April 2009, Oregon’s unemployment rate was 12%, the second highest in the country. This represents a dramatic increase since the beginning of the recession in December 2008 when the state’s unemployment rate was just 8.1% (http://www.bls.gov/cps). One result of the economic situation is an increase in the demand for emergency food boxes and other types of food assistance. Oregon has a history of food insecurity. In 2008, 12.4% of the state’s population was living in households that struggle with hunger or were food insecure. One important way that families are able to access additional food and meet the nutritional needs of their members is through the school lunch program. Started in 1946, and expanded to include breakfast in 1966, the National School Lunch Program provides free and reduced school meals to children from families who meet eligibility guidelines. In Oregon, a child from a family of four with an income of $2,297 a month would be eligible for free meals, and $3,269 per month is eligible for reduced price meals. Since the 2003-2004 school year, the number of Oregon children eligible for the program has been above 40%. The number of school lunches served by schools in the metroscape has increased from the 2007-2008 to 2008-2009 school year. Yamhill County served an average of 10,000 more free lunches per month in 2008-2009 than in 2007-2008. And in Clackamas County, nearly 3,000 additional students were eligible for reduced price lunches each month.


Oregon, like the rest of the country, is feeling the effects of the troubled economy. The economic forecast released by the State of Oregon Office of Economic Development identifies major risks to the state’s economy including the credit crunch, returning high energy prices, the extent of the global downturn, and the appreciation of the U.S. dollar. Effects of the crisis can be seen around the region. As revenues decrease, state and local governments are looking for ways to cut costs. In October the state’s unemployment rate climbed to 7.3%, up almost a full percentage point from the September rate of 6.4%. The jobless rate is the highest the state has seen since August 2004.

As the jobless rate increases, stock prices for some of the area’s largest publicly traded companies are decreasing. Nine companies headquartered in the metroscape with market caps above $1 billion show similar patterns of market growth and decline over the past year. After a jump during May, prices have been steadily dropping (www.seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/388189_oregonjobless18.html).

Voter Turnout

Voter TurnoutThe Republican Party will nominate Mitt Romney as its presidential candidate at the GOP convention Aug. 27-30 in Tampa Bay, Fla. Early polls show a tight race between Romney and incumbent President Barack Obama, so turnout among registered voters will be key for the winner on Nov. 6.

Among U.S. metropolitan areas, greater Portland ranked 16th in terms of the percentage of eligible and registered voters who cast ballots in the 2008 general election — 62.9 percent — according to Greater Portland Pulse. Topping the list of U.S. metros were Minneapolis-St. Paul and Milwaukee, with voting rates of 75.9 percent and 72.1 percent, respectively. Rounding out the top 10, in order, were St. Louis, Cleveland, Kansas City, Jacksonville, Columbus, Richmond, Raleigh and Philadelphia. If history is any indicator, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Missouri could swing the general election.

Metroscape® published its first issue back in 1992 when Presidential incumbent George H. Bush squared off against then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and Texan Ross Perot, so it’s apt that this issue’s Indicators section examine how counties within the Portland metropolitan stack up in terms of voter turnout during the five previous general elections. The stars below show how each of the region’s six counties voted for president in the 2008 election.

Michael Burnahm is a graduate student in PSU’s Masters of Urban Planning program

Air Quality

Air quality and global climate change are issues of growing importance to communities across the United States. Greenhouse gases generated by transportation have been identified as a major contributor to global climate change. In 2005, the Research and Technology Innovation Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation reported that highway vehicle miles traveled (VMT) accounted for 81% of the total U.S. transportation energy consumption. VMT is expected to increase 60% from 2,952 billion miles traveled in 2005 to 4,733 billion miles traveled in 2030. During that period, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are expected to increase by 35%. In an effort to combat the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, and to meet emissions regulations embedded in clean air legislation, many communities are promoting the reduction of VMT. As gas prices rise, more people are turning to public transportation and bicycles while trying to reduce time spent behind the wheel. Efforts to reduce VMT are proving somewhat successful in the metroscape. In 1992 the average VMT for both Portland and the U.S. was 20.2. Portland’s VMT has held fairly steady since then. In 2005 the VMT was 20.3; by 2006 the number had dropped to just 20. Nationally, efforts have been less successful. Since 1992 the national VMT has been steadily increasing; in 2005 it was 23.8.

vehicle miles traveled
Sources: ODOT; US DOT

Home sales

Is there a market crisis in real estate? Across the country communities are concerned about the effects of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. At first analysts thought Portland might escape unscathed, but now they are not so sure. The full impact of the mortgage crisis probably won’t be known for years. A look at indicators for the five Oregon counties in the metroscape gives us a picture of the current state of Portland’s residential real estate market and how news of the crisis might have made some buyers nervous.

The average length of time homes stay on the market

has been increasing since 2004, with a large spike at the end of this summer. There are more homes on the market, fewer pending sales, and fewer closed sales. Perhaps buyers are taking more time to make decisions, competition for homes is light, or potential buyers are having a harder time acquiring mortgages. Average sales prices in the metroscape have been climbing steadily since 2004, with a 6.7% increase in the year ending in October 2007 compared to the year ending October 2006. For the same period, median sale prices increased 7.6%. However, a slight price dip occurred when news of the mortgage crisis hit.