Is Portland Really “Portlandia”? When it Comes to Young, Educated Migrants, the Show is Mostly Wrong

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Portland State University researchers show Portland really isn't a place "where young people go to retire."

Is Portland really the place “where young people go to retire”?

The catchphrase from the TV show, “Portlandia,” doesn’t quite get it right when it comes to the young and college-educated people who flock to Portland in good economic times and bad, according to a new study from Portland State University’s Nohad A. Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning.

Facing a chronically difficult job market, Portland-area workers under age 40 with college degrees are underemployed or self-employed at some of the highest rates in the United States, say PSU researchers Jason Jurjevich and Greg Schrock. But they aren’t coming to Portland to retire; they work at rates comparable to other major metropolitan regions.

“These young people appear to place greater value on amenities and quality of life than economic opportunity,” said Schrock, assistant professor of Urban Planning. “They want to work, but more of them work at part-time jobs or are self-employed than in other cities. They are finding ways to get by here in Portland rather than move to places with better job prospects.”

Young, educated Portlanders are somewhat more likely to work in “non-college” occupations such as retail sales, health care and food service, and they earn 84 percent of the average for all large metropolitan areas, the study found.

“They are willing to make the best of a tough job market to live here, at least for now,” said Jurjevich, assistant director of the Population Research Center at PSU. “The question is, how long will they keep coming, and how long will they stay?”

Jurjevich and Schrock drew on U.S. Census Bureau data from the 2000 Census and more recent American Community Surveys from 2005-2007 and 2008-10 to compare migration patterns in Portland to 50 other large U.S. metropolitan regions.

Other findings include:

  •     The Portland region has consistently attracted and retained young, college-educated migrants at some of the highest levels of any large city in the U.S.
  •     In the most recent period, 5.4 percent of Portland’s young, college-educated people were unemployed, more than a percentage point higher than the average for all large cities. Nearly one in five was working part time, and nearly one in ten was self-employed.
  •     Portland attracts and retains not only young, college-educated people, but also empty-nesters and retired migrants (age 40 and above) at levels exceeding its peer cities.

The full reports can be viewed at:

About Portland State University (PSU)
Located in Portland, Oregon, PSU has about 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students. PSU’s motto is “Let Knowledge Serve the City,” and we provide every student with opportunities to work with businesses, schools and organizations on real-world projects. Our downtown campus exhibits PSU’s commitment to sustainability with green buildings, while sustainability is incorporated into much of the curriculum.

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Scott Gallagher
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