According to a recent report in local media, Multnomah County, where Portland is located, lost a record $1 billion in income between 2020 and 2021 as residents moved away.
Should we be so shocked?
The Morning Wire podcast stated that the $1 billion number likely underestimates how much the city is hemorrhaging.
Like a recent report in California, many of these residents were high-income earners who had the luxury to pick up and move their families during the pandemic due to the ability to work remotely.
The latest figures, based on income tax returns filed in 2020 and 2021, show that Multnomah County lost a net 14,257 tax filers and their dependents, which equates to roughly three percent of the city’s population.
Another 8,000 people left between July 2021 and July 2022.
The county’s resulting net income loss topped $1 billion for the first time in the decade that the IRS has tracked moving data.
The average income of Multnomah County residents who moved away in 2020, the most recent figure available, was 14 percent higher than that of those who moved the year prior, according to The Oregonian/OregonLive’s analysis.
While the decline in population was initially due to COVID, Portland continued to shed residents and was among the fastest-shrinking big cities in 2022. However, while other cities have been able to bounce back, Portland has been caught in a downward spiral.
Portland Boom to Bust
Prior to the pandemic, Portland had been on an upswing, a popular city for young, active, working professionals who enjoyed food trucks, craft beer, and local lattes. If REI and Google had a baby, they’d live in Portland.
Many found humor in Portlandia, the wildly popular show that poked fun at the city’s hipster lifestyle, that included guest stars including Kristin Wig and Jeff Goldblum.
The comedy enjoyed seven successful seasons and ran from 2011-2018 around the time the city was booming. It found humor in Portland’s eccentric scene which included retail shops such as “the knot store” and restaurants that tell customers not only where their chicken was raised (local, of course) and that it is organic, but also that it was “fed a diet of sheep’s milk, soy, and hazelnuts.” Eventually, the waitress brings Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, the show’s two main characters, “Colin,” the chicken’s “paperwork” complete with photos and bio.
You get the point.
But much like California’s popular Venice Beach, a hipster-populated city near Los Angeles, Portland has been plagued by homelessness, crime, and drug use prompting many businesses to shut down and residents to flee. Foot traffic in downtown Portland has plummeted.
Along with Minneapolis, Portland was one of the cities most ravaged by the George Floyd riots, where demonstrations were particularly violent and lasted into October of 2020.
The riots caused tens of millions of dollars in property damage and the Portland police chief claimed the riots cost the force $6.2 million for police overtime stemming from coverage of nightly protests.
Oregon also recently decriminalized possession of all drugs and has since seen a dramatic rise in overdose deaths, one of the highest percentages of adults with a substance use disorder.
Like Los Angeles and San Francisco, as more and more wealthier residents leave the city, they take their tax dollars with them, leaving Portland with less money to fund their expensive drug and homelessness social programs. Meanwhile, the city must increase its budget to try to prevent these issues from continuing to plague the once-thriving city.
The one difference between the cities in Oregon and California is much of the transfer of wealth from Portland stayed within the state. Many residents simply chose to leave Multnomah County for more rural locations in Oregon. Contrast that with California, where residents continue to hightail it to other more tax-friendly states, like Florida, Texas, and Tennessee.
However, both Portland and cities in California reflect a larger trend encapsulated in country singer Jason Aldean’s controversial #1 song “Try That in a Small Town” – people are leaving the cities for safer, cleaner, more efficient, and less expensive rural towns where crime has consequences.
Jennifer Galardi is the politics and culture editor for 19FortyFive.com. She has a Master’s in Public Policy from Pepperdine University and produces and hosts the podcast Connection with conversations that address health, culture, politics and policy. In a previous life, she wrote for publications in the health, fitness, and nutrition space. In addition, her pieces have been published in the Epoch Times and Pepperdine Policy Review.