Regional Connections


by Sheila Martin and Jeremy Young

Dr. Nohad Toulan’s legacy has many facets and one is the development of institutions for regional decisionmaking. His establishment of the Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies in 1991 was based on his assessment of the opportunity to develop an institution that could focus on issues that required cross-jurisdictional cooperation. At the time, this was revolutionary thinking. Although Metro had been established in 1979, it didn’t (and still doesn’t) officially include the Washington side of the metroscape. Myron Orfield’s Metropolitics wasn’t published until 1997 and Neil Pearce wouldn’t publish his Citystates until 1993. Nevertheless, Dr. Toulan recognized that progress on many important issues required that we think and act regionally, and that no formal institutions for accomplishing this yet existed.

This atlas provides evidence that the metropolitan region is indeed connected as people travel through the region to live and work. We provide two sets of maps that speak to the region’s connectedness through the movement of people. The first set of maps demonstrates how people move about the region on a daily basis to work; the second set shows how people move into and about the region as they change their place of residence.

The final set of maps shows some of the consequences of this mobility: the changing demographic diversity of our metropolitan region. As people migrate in and find their place, demographic patterns have changed. The result, which may be surprising for some, is that our communities share the experience of demographic change, although that change looks a little different in each neighborhood.

Commuting Patterns

The maps on the facing page show the volume of daily commuting into each county, in the Portland metropolitan region, from each of the other counties. These numbers are based on the location of someone’s primary job and the location of their residence. The county shown on the map in yellow is the county people are commuting to, and the size of the orange circles indicate the volume of commuting from each of the other counties.

The greatest volume of commuting occurs between Multnomah and Washington counties, with over 61,000 people commuting into Multnomah County each day from Washington County, and 42,000 each day commuting from Multnomah to Washington counties. Clackamas County also exchanges many workers across its borders, with over 56,000 people commuting to Multnomah County each day, and over 22,000 commuting into Washington County. Clackamas receives approximately 32,000 workers from Multnomah County and 19,000 from Washington County.

Commuting to and from the other counties is much smaller, but we do, perhaps surprisingly, see hundreds of people traveling from one edge of the region to the other – from Columbia to Clackamas and from Skamania to Yamhill. Clearly, the labor market within the region is connected by people willing to travel long distances to find the right fit for their skills and interests. This means labor market, housing market, and transportation issues require a regional approach.

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Migration Patterns

The metroscape is also connected by a pattern of intra-regional migration—people moving from one part of the metropolitan region to another—as their life circumstances, tastes, and housing needs change. Migration connects us because as we move around the region, we bring with us our experiences, perceptions, and points of view. As we interact with our neighbors, we expose them to ideas that may be new to them—and we learn about the challenges and benefits of living in our new community.

To quantify these patterns, we rely on the 5-year aggregate data from the American Community Survey for the years 2006 to 2010. The survey asks the question, “Did this person live in this house or apartment one year ago?” and if the answer is no, “Where did this person live one year ago?”

Based on the answers to these questions, we mapped the flow of migrants into and among the counties in the metroscape. The maps show that almost 41,000 people migrated to Washington County during this period. Thirty two percent of those were from within the metropolitan region. Forty eight percent came from out of state, and 9.4 percent came from abroad. Within the stream of regional migrants to Washington County, the highest number came from Multnomah County.

Fifty-five thousand people moved to Multnomah County during this period. About 29 percent of these, or 16,000 in-migrants, were from other counties in the Portland region. The highest number of regional in-migrants to Multnomah County came from Clackamas County, followed by Washington and Clark. However, Multnomah County attracted almost 28,000 people from outside of Oregon and almost 6,000 from abroad. 

Clackamas County also received over 13,000 in-migrants; most of these (51 percent) were from within the metropolitan region, with the highest number of migrants from Multnomah County. About one-third of migrants to Clackamas County came from a different state, and about 5 percent moved there from abroad.

Clark County, Washington received over 27,000 in-migrants, with only 23 percent of these coming from within the metropolitan region. Just over two-thirds (69 percent) came from other states, and about 43 percent of those (8,167) came from Oregon (3,859 coming from Multnomah County). This represented about 14 percent of Clark County’s total in-migration.

About 8,400 people moved to Yamhill County and the majority of these—53 percent—came from a different state. 29 percent moved from within the region, with the highest flows being from Washington County.

Columbia County received the fewest number of in migrants – only 3,750—and most of these came from within the metropolitan region. 897 Washington County residents moved to Columbia County and 665 people moved there from Multnomah County.

This continuous change in the amalgam of residents in each neighborhood in the metroscape means that we are constantly challenged to question our assumptions about who we are as a region and how to approach our important public policy challenges.

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Regional Diversity

A final factor that connects us is the changing racial and ethnic demographics of our region. As previously explained, each county in our region had in-migrants from other states and other countries, leading to a changing regional demographic profile. Specifically, over the past decade, our region has become much more diverse as the percentage of individuals who are White and non-Hispanic has declined. But the patterns of change across the region are somewhat different depending on each community’s economic drivers, changes in its housing market, and its historic ethnic communities.

Each map shows for each census tract in the region the change in the percentage of the population within a specific ethnic group (Asian alone or in combination, Black alone or in combination, Hispanic of any race, and White alone, non-Hispanic) between 2000 and 2010. The maps show how the population share of these ethnic groups has changed over those ten years.

The percentage of people who are Asian has increased in many suburban areas of the metropolitan region. While a few areas within Portland, Beaverton, and Vancouver have experienced a relative decline in the Asian population, many areas in northern and eastern Clark County, western Washington County, and eastern Multnomah and Clackamas counties have experienced a relative increase in their Asian populations.

The maps showing changes in the Black population show a somewhat different pattern, with large decreases in the percentage of the Black population in the historically Black neighborhoods of North and Northeast Portland and consistent increases in East Portland, Gresham, and in parts of Clark County. 

The percentage of the population that is Hispanic has increased almost everywhere in the region, with a few decreases for Census tracts in close-in neighborhoods of Portland where increases in the cost of housing likely prompted some Hispanics to move to other areas.

The percentage of the White alone, non-Hispanic population has declined almost everywhere in the region, mirroring increasing diversity throughout the region with a few exceptions. The most notable exception is in close-in northeast Portland neighborhoods where the increase in the White population has been over 20 percent in several Census tracts. This trend appears to reflect the decline in the Black population in these neighborhoods.

As the region’s racial and ethnic diversity increases and the demographic mosaics of our neighborhoods shift, we wonder whether the changes are increasing or decreasing our opportunities to connect with people who don’t look like us or share our cultural backgrounds. Evidence suggests that cultural diversity contributes to economic growth by introducing new ideas and cultural experiences into society and workplaces, resulting in more creative problem solving. Our increasing diversity is an asset to be embraced and an important ingredient in our connective tissue.

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