Max Denning

As a whole, Oregon’s population growth in the 2010s will likely top 10 percent. While Northeast Oregon continues to grow at a much slower rate.

In its most recent annual population estimate, Portland State University estimated that Oregon’s population grew by 54,200 people — an increase of 1.3 percent — from July 1, 2017, to July 1, 2018. Since 2010, Oregon’s population has grown by 351,105 people, a 9.13 percent increase.

Northeast Oregon’s growth, in comparison, has been more modest. Since 2010, Union County has grown by 5.45 percent, including a 0.1 percent decline from 2017 to 2018. Wallowa County’s population decreased by 0.3 percent the past year and has grown by only 1.27 percent since 2010. Baker County grew by 0.1 percent in the past year, and over the past eight years the county’s population has grown by 1.98 percent.

Christopher Rich, the Eastern Oregon regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department, said Northeast Oregon’s population growth has largely been in the 55 and older age bracket.

“Even though the population overall is growing … there’s a big shift in Eastern Oregon toward an older population,” Rich said. “The 55 and older crowd is actually growing a lot more. What’s also happening is the 18 to 54 population is actually thinning out a lot.”

Northeast Oregon’s slower growth since 2010 is part of a larger nationwide tendency of young people moving away from rural areas. In October, the Harvard Political Review published an article outlining this population loss.

“Since 2010, 46 states have seen population loss in over 1,300 counties, the vast majority of them rural,” the article stated. “Rural communities must make their towns more attractive to live in in order to attract new residents and prevent old residents from fleeing to the city.”

Rich noted often young people move away from rural areas to pursue higher education.

“One of the big trends for the younger generation now is to move directly into college,” Rich said. “A lot of the time that involves going to a different place for college.”

While in Union County the 18-24 population is propped up by students at Eastern Oregon University, the county might not hold on to those residents.

“When they graduate, depending on what their degree is, they might not find a lot of opportunity over here,” Rich said. “So you might see a lot of exodus from those people.… There’s definitely a lot more opportunities for certain degree fields in urban areas.”

While young people may see a lack of educational and vocational opportunities, older individuals see rural areas as an alternative to the way of life found in cities.

“There’s a draw for retirees to move into more rural areas as well,” Rich said. “(Such as) lower housing costs, maybe an easier pace of life.”