Portland’s residents value its small town feel, its human scale, and its community connectedness – the feeling that we know and care for one another. Yet in the future, Portland’s population is expected to grow into that of a much larger city.

Recent Trends


The City of Portland has experienced consistent growth since the 1980s through annexations, migration and natural growth. Between 1990 and 2000, the most significant increases in population were in the central city and the neighborhoods east of I-205, though no Portland neighborhoods have seen significant declines in population. About 40% of the growth has occurred due to migration into the city, with the rest from natural increase (where there are more births than deaths) (1).

Population projections within the City of Portland boundaries show very little growth in the short run. From 2000 to 2007, Portland’s population grew by about 4 percent, making it the 31st largest city in the US, according to the Census Bureau. The Planning Bureau projects that the city’s population will grow by only 3 percent over the next five years. Nevertheless, growth of the regional population will likely increase demand for the city’s services and amenities.

The Metropolitan Region

The metropolitan area has grown significantly in recent decades, gaining nearly a million people between 1970 and 2000. Between 1990 and 2000 alone, our region grew at about twice the rate of the nation as a whole, with 70% of this growth caused by migration to the area (2). While Multnomah County continues to have more people than other counties, its share of the overall population has been falling. In fact, between 1990 and 2000, Clark County grew at a rate of 45%, Washington County at 43% and Multnomah County at a relatively lower 13% (3).

While Portland has seen new households in the Pearl District and downtown, many of the region’s new households are at the periphery. This is already changing the distribution of population across the metropolitan area, and is expected to continue to do so. However, Portland is still the site of a significant amount of regional development. Currently, the City of Portland has a goal to capture 20% of new regional households. Between 1995 and 2005, the City exceeded that goal for a rate of 33% over the 10-year period (4).

Projected Trends

According to Metro, our regional, tri-county government body, the Portland area gains 500 people in an average week. Metro estimates that an additional million people will be in the region by 2030 (5). Another estimate says that by 2025, the 6-county Portland metropolitan region will include 2.7 million people – a 40% increase from the 2000 population. At that point, our population will be larger than the current metropolitan populations of St. Louis and Baltimore and just under Seattle’s current metropolitan population of 3.1 million.

Whatever statistics or projections one views, current best thinking indicates that the Portland metropolitan area will continue to grow. If this growth materializes, we need to be ready to absorb it without compromising the things that Portlanders have said are important to them – housing choice and affordability, a healthy ecosystem, an easy-to-use transportation system, availability of good jobs and good schools and much more.

Change in Household Makeup

While Portland’s population has grown in recent decades, the makeup of the population is changing as well. Since the 1970s, married family households have declined in both absolute numbers and as a percentage of households within Portland. Several inner city neighborhoods have seen a decline in the percentage of families with school-aged children as well as a decline in the overall median age of residents between 1990 and 2000. Further, Portland in 2000 had a smaller average household size (2.3) than any of the region’s counties.

This means that these neighborhoods have become attractive to young adults, single or married, who have delayed having children or have chosen not to have children. Elderly adults also make up a smaller share of these neighborhood residents, as many have retired to other communities.

Projections show that the number of households will continue to grow, but household size will fall and families may grow only slightly. Thus, according to current projections, families will make up a smaller share of the overall population in the near future.

Aging Population

As we consider the kind of city we want in the future, we must also consider the fact that we will be a city whose residents are older. Nationwide, the population is aging. The U.S. Census bureau predicts that the percentage of the population age 65 and over will increase from 12.4 percent in 2000 to 20.7 percent in 2050.

In our region, as shown in the chart below, the over-65 population will more than double, and its share of the population will rise from about 10 percent today to over 16 percent in 2025. Similarly, the over-85 population will double.

Retiring Baby Boomers

These changes have important implications for business, education and government. As the baby boom generation ages, business and government struggle to find replacements for workers nearing retirement and higher education considers ways to train the current workforce to meet these emerging needs. According to the Oregon Employment Department, the number of workers ages 65 and older increased by 64 percent from 1992 to 2002, and the percent of workers nearing retirement age, age 54 to 64, increased by roughly 70 percent during that same time. Older workers are well represented in some of the state’s largest industries, particularly health services.

Planning for Aging

As a community, we must consider how to address the needs of a diverse, aging population in the way we provide services such as public transportation, parks, and housing.

In addition to different needs, the aging population can provide resources as they retire – nonprofits may get a boon in the energy and experience of the retiring baby boomers to improve our city through volunteerism and by increasing social connectedness.

Planning for older populations can be an important component of the community’s work in the next two decades. Participatory processes, community involvement and expert direction are needed to meet the needs, as well as harness the potential, of an aging society.

  1. Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies, “Metropolitan Briefing Book 2007,” page 9.
  2. Coalition for a Livable Future, “Regional Equity Atlas: Metropolitan Portland’s Geography of Opportunity,” page 12.
  3. Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies, “Metropolitan Briefing Book 2007,” page 8.
  4. Progress Toward 2040: Portland’s Story – Presentation to City of Portland Planning Commission, May 9, 2006.
  5. Metro, New Look Issue Position Paper Booklet, Coming to Grips with Growth.


Top: A Southwest Portland resident fills out a visionPDX survey at Neighborhood House, Inc.

Bottom: visionPDX grant recipients network at the visionPDX First Thursday at City Hall in April 2006.

Click Here to view a chart depicting our region's population forecast.

Click Here to view a chart depicting the forcasted change in future household makeup.

Click Here to view an aging population projection for the Portland metro region.

Top: Elders in Action volunteers hit the streets to talk to elders about visionPDX.

Bottom: Korean American seniors fill out the visionPDX questionnaire as part of the Korean American Citizens League grant.

Vision into Action / 1900 SW 4th, Suite 7100 / Portland, Oregon 97204 / Phone: (503) 823-9585