A Look at Population Trends in Eastern Oregon

by Tony Wendel

June 18, 2024

Portland State University’s (PSU) annual population estimates show that Eastern Oregon’s population continued to increase in 2023. This is in line with the long-term trend of a growing population in both the state and the region overall. PSU’s Population Research Center does extensive work to create the annual population estimates for the state and counties, as well as incorporated and unincorporated areas. Detailed data focused on age demographics and the components of population change are also available.

County Change

The population increased in 2023 in three of Eastern Oregon’s eight counties (Malheur, Morrow, and Umatilla). Union County saw the scale tip the opposite direction more significantly while three other counties (Baker, Grant, and Harney) decreased by smaller margins. Wallowa County saw no change over the year. Growth was 0.8% for the region overall, which represents a decrease from the previous over-the-year growth rate of 1.8%. Eastern Oregon’s over-the-year rate was above the state’s growth rate of 0.6%. The five-year trend (2018 to 2023) for growth was 1.9% in Eastern Oregon, which represents an increase from the previous five-year trend (2017 to 2022) of 1.3%. The state’s five-year trend dropped to 2.4% from 3.1%.
Table showing Population of Eastern Oregon Counties

Over the year, Umatilla County welcomed the most new residents (+900) for growth of 1.1%. This should come as no surprise given the size of Umatilla’s population relative to other Eastern Oregon counties. Malheur County added the second most residents, up 451 or 1.4%. In terms of population growth relative to a county’s own size, however, Morrow saw the most growth, gaining 3.3% for the year, up 411 residents. Looking at the five-year trend, Morrow County added the most residents (+1,125) and had the fastest growth at 9.5%. Wallowa, Malheur, and Harney counties all have seen sizable growth over the five-year period with gains of 6.4%, 3.3% and 3.0%, respectively.

Union County saw the greatest loss over the year (-0.9%), down 223 residents. Union was the only county to show a decrease for the five-year trend (-2.0%), down 550 residents. Wallowa County saw no gain or loss for the year, but rose 6.4% since 2018, adding 456 new residents.

City Change

Incorporated cities in Eastern Oregon totaled 131,177 residents in 2023, two-thirds of the region’s total population. These cities ranged from three residents in Greenhorn to 20,322 residents in Hermiston. Thirty cities had a population under 1,000 with a combined population of 10,023. Over-the-year growth came in at 0.4% or 40 residents for these smaller cities, with few gaining any new residents. The five-year trend was a decline of 0.6% or 64 residents.

Twenty-three cities had a population above 1,000 with a combined population of 121,154. Total over-the-year growth came in at 1.0% or 1,227 residents for these larger cities, with five showing no growth and one, La Grande, showing a decline. Five-year growth was 4.9% or 5,674 residents. The accompanying table shows a slightly larger total population because John Day and Canyon City (687 residents) were combined as a single population for this analysis. Immediate geographic proximity makes the two function more like a single economy even though they are two separate cities. This also occurs with La Grande/Island City and Burns/Hines, however, each of these four have populations above 1,000, so they did not affect the table’s total population.
Table showing Eastern Oregon Population Centers Larger Than 1,000

Eastern Oregon’s largest city experienced the most growth in 2023. Hermiston added 353 residents over the year for a growth rate of 1.8%. Hermiston’s five-year gain was 11.7%, adding the most residents there as well, up 2,122. The City of Umatilla was second for growth over the year, up 289. The city’s five-year trend was 490 for a gain of 6.7%. Pendleton ranks second for size in Eastern Oregon, but added fewer residents at a more leisurely pace, growing 0.8% or 137 residents over the year and 1.2% or 196 residents over five years. Boardman, the seventh largest city in the region at one-fourth the size of Pendleton, blew the field away in terms of five-year growth. The city grew by 20.2%, adding 747 residents and accounting for two-thirds of Morrow County’s five-year gain.

Unincorporated Area Change

Unincorporated areas in Eastern Oregon added a combined 219 residents (0.4%) in 2023 but lost 2,046 residents (-3.2%) since 2018. County land that does not fall within city boundaries had a total population of 62,567. Umatilla, Malheur, and Union counties ranked first through third, respectively, and accounted for nearly 70% of Eastern Oregon’s unincorporated population.
Table showing Population of Eastern Oregon Unincorporated Areas

Baker, Umatilla, and Union were the only three counties with population losses in unincorporated areas since 2018. The other five counties all saw an increase. Over-the-year growth was positive in three counties and negative in five.

City boundary growth played a relatively small role in changes over the year as the total population lost from unincorporated areas to cities through annexation was 38. The largest population change due to boundary growth was in Umatilla County where Hermiston added 36 residents through annexation. The only other city that added population through annexation in 2023 was Ontario which added two residents.

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