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News Conference Talking Points
American Community Survey: Portland
Portland, Oregon·13 June 2007

Charles Louis Kincannon
Director, U.S. Census Bureau


Thank you, Mayor Potter.

Before I get started, I’d like to ask how many of you bicycled to get work today? Not a question I would ask in most cities, but here in Portland, workers take to bike lanes at a rate of about eight times the national average. That sounds like a great alternative to fueling up at over $3 a gallon. Saving money and getting in shape at the same time – that’s something I’d like to do more of.

Mr. Mayor, I’m glad to be here today in Portland and Multnomah County – one of the five original test sites in the nation for the American Community Survey, and the focus of today’s news conference.

Imagine if you will, managing a city or county with data that are over tens years old. In fact, even managing with data from the most recent census in 2000 – seven years ago, is getting more difficult every year.

America is changing and so are its needs for data. To respond to these needs, the Census Bureau started the American Community Survey (ACS) nationwide in 2005. The testing and research began here in Portland and Multnomah County in 1996.

The American Community Survey is a powerful tool that provides communities the detailed data they need to make decisions every year, rather than just once a decade. Data are collected every year on important social, economic and housing characteristics such as transportation, educational attainment, property values, income, migration and language spoken at home.

Because Multnomah was one of the nation’s original test sites for ACS, data users – including George (Hough) and Scott (Stewart) – have had the advantage of working with ACS data for 10 years. Each of them will discuss how they’ve used that data. In fact, many cities will be looking to Portland as a model as data becomes available for levels of geography of 20,000 people or more beginning in 2008.

This information is needed every day by local governments and the private sector to plan and make decisions —decisions that affect not only residents of Portland, but every person living in America.

Decisions on infrastructure and social service programs, such as where to build a new school or day-care center, are informed by our data. Your local and state transportation planners use the data to help ease congestion and determine where to add new bus routes, carpool lanes or roads, emergency services and more.

For the first time in 2010, the Census Bureau will conduct a short-form only census. This will be one of the shortest and simplest forms since 1790. Asking just a few questions that will take most people less than 10 minutes to answer will be key to getting an accurate count of the nation – and here in Portland.

Besides determining Oregon’s political representation in Congress, there’s a lot of money at stake as a result of the census – every year more than $300 billion in federal funds are distributed back to state and local governments based on census data.

And of course, Oregon has undergone much growth and many changes since 2000. According to the Census Bureau’s recent state population estimates, Oregon had the eleventh fastest growing population in America. With an estimated 533,000 residents, Portland ranks today as the thirtieth largest city in the U.S.

Understanding and addressing the challenges that come with having a growing population, will better help manage Portland’s changing needs. It’s hard for us to imagine the challenges that will face mayors in the coming decades. But the American Community Survey is an important tool NOW, and will be in the future.

I’d now like to share just a few of the many important characteristics available to illustrate how the American Community Survey can provide useful data not only to your city but also to business and community organizations focused on improving the quality of life in this beautiful city.

ACS data are currently available for all governments of 65,000 or more. Starting next year, data will be available for all areas of 20,000 or more. And by 2010, annual updates will be available every year for all governments and for geographies down to the census block-group level.

Today, the Census Bureau released an analysis of American Community Survey data that looks at public transportation use in the United States. Despite rising fuel costs, the nation’s use of public transportation has not really increased that much since 2000. In fact, less than 5 percent of the nation’s population actually took some form of public transit to work in 2005. That’s certainly not the case here in Portland, which continues to stand out as an area where less people drive to work.

Let’s take a look at just some of the interesting data on transportation and other indicators of quality of life here in Portland.

Commute to Work

  • According to the ACS, Portland has higher rates of public transportation use than many larger cities, including Dallas, Phoenix, San Diego and Indianapolis. In 2005, 13.3 percent of the local workers used public transportation to get to work.
  • Portland also has the distinction among large cities as having the highest percentage of bicycle commuters, where 3.5 percent of local residents pedal to work – about eight times the national average (0.4 percent).
  • Many people living here also work from home, about 5.3 percent. Nationally, about 3.6 percent of the population worked from home in 2005.
  • For the nation, the average time it takes commuters to get to work is 25.1 minutes. However, here in Oregon, it’s much less at 21.9 minutes.
  • It takes commuters here in Multnomah slightly more at 23.7 minutes, and for those living in Portland, the average commute time to work is 23.2 minutes.
  • Another interesting fact is what time people leave their homes to commute to work – a little more than 1-in-4 Portland (25.8 percent) and Multnomah (25.9 percent) residents leave for work after 9 a.m. Nationally, the average number of workers leaving at that time is about 23.2 percent.
  • At the same time, a higher percentage of Oregonians (4.5 percent) leave for work before 5 a.m. than the national average (3.9 percent) – hope all those bicyclers have lights.

Let’s look at some other interesting characteristics.

Educational Attainment

  • Education data, along with other key characteristics such as household income and property values can serve as reliable indicators of the quality of life.
  • Oregon’s percentage of high school graduates age 25 and over, at 87.5 percent, was higher than the national average of 84.2 percent.
  • Drilling down below the state level, many counties had rates in excess of the national average, with Benton and Clackamas, boasting percentages over 90 percent.
  • Among Oregon cities 65,000 population or more that we measured, cities like Beaverton and Eugene had high school graduation rates near 94 percent, well above the national average. The cities of Bend (90.2 percent), Medford
    (89.9 percent) and Portland (88.8 percent) also had high rates.
  • As a state, Oregon’s college graduation rate of 27.7 percent was about the same as the national figure of 27.2 percent.
  • Among counties with the percentage of its adult population having at least a bachelor’s degree, Benton County had the highest in the state at 45.5 percent. Other counties with high college graduation rates included Washington (37.1 percent), Multnomah (35.5 percent) and Clackamas (31.6 percent) counties.
  • According to the ACS, Oregon cities are also doing very well in terms of education levels. In fact, many cities in the state had a higher percentage of college graduates than the national rate of 27.2 percent. Some of the highest rates among cities could be found in Beaverton (44.2 percent), Eugene (40.5 percent), Portland (38.8 percent) and Bend (36.6 percent).

Median Household Income

  • Median household income is also a crucial statistic used in both public and private planning. According to the American Community Survey, Oregon’s median household income was nearly $43,000 in 2005 – slightly less than the national figure of $46,200.
  • Among counties, Clackamas ($54,500) and Washington ($53,400) counties median household income outpaced all others at about $54,000. While in Benton, Deschutes {da’ shoot}, Jackson, Marion, Multnomah, Polk and Yamhill counties, the median household income was in the $40,000 range.
  • Among cities, it appears that living in Beaverton ($50,900), Hillsboro ($49,700), Bend ($46,800) or Portland ($42,300) has its advantages, with its residents having a median household income in the $40,000 to $50,000 range annually.

Median Housing Value

Of course, the next question for anyone — whether it’s a corporate analyst or a family — is “how much does it really cost to live here?”

  • One of the best indicators is housing values. As most of you probably know, there is new housing construction in and around the metro area at all price levels. Oregon’s median housing value of $201,200 was significantly higher the national average of $167,500, but considerably lower than the neighboring states of Washington ($227,700) and Nevada ($283,400).
  • The median value of a single-family home here in Multnomah was $221,200 – Portland was even more, about $226,000.
  • Clackamas County had the highest median home value at $259,000, whereas the homes in Umatilla {U ma tilla} and Klamath {Clam eth} counties were on average less than half the price – about $120,000.
  • Among cities with the highest median housing values, Beaverton, Bend and Medford had figures similar to that of Portland – about $225,000 to $250,000 range.

Next year, with the American Community survey, and every year thereafter, we will have data to show how prices are increasing, showing how Portland and other places in Oregon continues to change.

A few minutes ago, I mentioned that people and businesses are often looking for the same things: opportunities and a good quality of life. They ask important questions about education, income, housing, and commuting. I believe the American Community Survey is the source that will help answer these important questions for Portland and Multnomah County.

There are a lot more data available on our website at www.census.gov and in your packets. I’m very pleased that George Hough is with us today to talk about how data from the American Community Survey is used to understand and better plan for Portland’s changing population.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Public Information Office | PIO@census.gov | Last Revised: June 14, 2013