Last Thursday's Portland Tribune had an interesting feature by Peter Korn that displayed some common myths about migration here.
Among Korn's findings, based on IRS data, are that about as many Multnomah County residents have left for California as have left the Golden State for here in the last several years. Portland also does not, Korn found, attract an unusual amount of people from other states. "Many other states and most western cities have higher rates of migration than Oregon and Portland," he added. Seattle, for instance, gets much more Californians and people moving there overall.
In fact, for most of the past decade, more people actually left Multnomah County to live elsewhere than moved here. The reality is different in suburban Washington and Clackamas Counties: they've gone up in population.
But Korn notes that trend has changed: "Tax returns for 2006-07 (the IRS groups the migration data in two-year segments) show 3,601 more people moving into Multnomah County than leaving.
Another finding: "Portland residents aren't moving to the suburbs anymore, but out-of-staters have taken up the slack." For much of the last several years, the article says, the demographic trend has been for out-of-state residents to move first to Portland and then, after a few years, to move to the suburbs of Clackamas, Washington and Clark counties. Now, however, the number of people moving into Washington County versus a decade ago, while roughly the same overall, is made up 19.6 percent Portlanders versus 24 percent ten years ago.
What should we make of some of this data?
It's hard to draw concrete conclusions because there are a lot of complicating factors. Sometimes we may tend to see population increases as indications of which places people like best, and what cities are therefore the most pleasant to be in and experience. In reality, though, it may be more of an economic indicator, or maybe even climate.
After reading Korn's article, my Google search of fastest-growing US metro areas found this CNN article from a year ago listing the Dallas, Atlanta, Phoenix and Houston. Notice a theme here? Sprawl. Having an urban growth boundary like Portland does, and combining it other statewide anti-sprawl measures, means the added quality of life is (perhaps inevitably) tied to increases in the cost of living. Take away those restrictions, and you have cheaper land. The divide between rich and poor has become greater in America over the last decade, and over a broader period, central cities and suburbs have to some degree traded places as coveted and cheap destinations, respectively.
I'm probably just being too sensitive or seeing mirages, but I wondered if the paper had a bit of an agenda . The headline for the story, in big bold type on the cover, asked, "Nirvana? Possibly Not." Is it possible the Tribune's owner, the conservative Doctor Robert Pamplin Junior, might get a little extra satisfaction in taking Little Beirut down a peg?
Even if so, however, the numbers are there in plain sight. The tidal wave of Portland immigrants may indeed be a myth. But ultimately if there is a competition between Portland and its suburbs, or between the Portland metro area and those in other regions, our strength lies not in quantity but quality.