“Welcome to Oregon,” indeed. This is a sign that about one million new Oregonians will see between now and 2025, according to U.S. Census figures. (Well, some of those one million will see the inside of an Oregon maternity ward first, but you get the idea.) The census has some other figures that stand out:
- Oregon will rank eighth in the country for internal US migration.
- It will go from having the 17th highest proportion of elderly in the country in 1995 to the 4th highest proportion in 2025.
- The state’s Hispanic population will more than double from its 1995 percentage of 4.8 percent to 9.8 percent in 2025.
That’s a whole mess of numbers to basically say that Oregon will be older, more Californian (or Northeastern; I only arrived a few weeks ago), and more Hispanic. But what else will this more populous Oregon be?
“Demographics” can sound amorphous, but there’s nothing amorphous about the societal changes the state’s facing — as this “Welcome to California” sign posted in Portland suggests — or the questions they bring up. What happens to a state’s economy when so many people arrive so quickly? Do you see your new neighbors (me included) as more taxpayers or more burdens on social services? Is this cause for economic celebration or environmental concern? What’s going to happen to your schools, your hiking trails, your roads, or your farm when one million more people arrive?
Of course, they’re not distributing themselves randomly around the state. Assuming recent trends continue and the Willamette Valley absorbs most of the newcomers, will Oregon’s East-West political and cultural divide only deepen?
And then there’s identity: As Oregon and Oregonians change so dramatically, is it still possible to say what it is that makes this place unique in the first place? And are you afraid that ineffable quality is on the wane?
Maybe the first question is: Are you ready?
- Carl Abbott: Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University and author of the soon to be released “How Cities Won the West: Four Centuries of Urban Change in Western North America”
- Caitlin Baggott: Co-founder of the Oregon Bus Project
- Steve McClure: Commissioner of Union County