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North Coast


North Coast Demographics

Demographics are a tool we use to identify and track the characteristics of specific populations. But statistics about people do not exist in isolation; we live in the context of a particular landscape which influences us and which in turn is influenced by us. Just as the rise in sea level drastically influenced Oregon's earliest coastal inhabitants, an earthquake or tsunami could quickly alter present day demographics. Political, economic and social changes also have an impact on the lives of modern residents of Oregon's northern coastline; choices we make regarding growth and development will affect the North Coast of the future. Will salmon survive climate change and human interference to continue surging up our North Coast estuaries? Will new immigration laws impact our labor force? Will we create enough new jobs to support future population growth? Will Highway 101 become gridlocked like freeways in Los Angeles? Will crime increase? Demography is a mirror which reveals the interplay between residents of a place and the forces of change around them, as well as their adaptation to it. Demographics serve as a mirror through which we can view ourselves, our values and the result of our choices.

First Inhabitants: Peopling of the North Coast

Fog presses in from the sea to envelop Oregon's North Coast. It boils up steep cliffs in great steaming clouds which drift eastward toward the rising slopes of the Coast Range.

  • Four-thousand years ago, its fine mist moistened the forehead and dampened the hair of a Yacona Indian collecting mussels near Newport at Yaquina Head
  • A gray wall of fog shrouded a deer from the eyes of a hunter farther up the coast near Whale Cove 3,000 years ago
  • A similar cloak of fog obscured from sight a Tillamook Indian digging clams from the mud at low tide in Netarts Bay 550 years ago

Ancestors of these early North coast residents may have lived along Oregon's shores for as long as 10,000 years. Artifacts unearthed in the dry areas of south central Oregon have revealed that areas of the state were inhabited by humans 10,000 years ago. The Indian Sands site, located near Brookings on the Southern Oregon coast, produced artifacts dating back 10,000 years. Though no sites this old have been found on the North coast yet, it seems possible they might be excavated in the future. When the glaciers melted 8,000-4,000 years ago, sea levels rose dramatically by 300 to 400 feet. When sea levels finally stabilized, evidence of older habitation along the north coast may have been inundated by the sea forever.

We do know, however, that over the last 4,000 years many Indian groups resided in the resource-rich coastal strip wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the verdant Coastal Range. The Lower Columbia River region was home to the Chinookan people. The Clatsop group lived between the mouth of the Columbia River and Tillamook Head. South of them lived the Nehalem, Tillamook, Nestucca, Salmon River, Siletz, Yaquina and Alsea people. Anthropologists have estimated that by the time the Europeans began exploring the Oregon coastline, as many as 42,000 of these first inhabitants were living within the area now known as Oregon.

Thousands of years passed but the abiding fog remained, roiling and dissipating in an eternal cycle. In the winter of 1805-06, it moistened the wool jackets of Lewis and Clark as they gazed at an unruly expanse of Pacific Ocean. Did they know they were ushering in an era of unprecedented westward expansion and population growth?

Modern Day Inhabitants

Three counties are perched along Oregon's North Coast. In 2006, Portland State University's Population Research Center estimated county populations: Clatsop County 37,045; Tillamook County, 25,530; Lincoln County 44,520. Combined, these counties comprise approximately three percent of Oregon's total population of 3.69 million. Between 2000 and 2006, Clatsop and Tillamook Counties grew by 4-5%, but Lincoln County, the most populous of the three, barely grew at all ( 0.1%).

The populations of North coast counties are not growing as fast as the statewide population, which grew at 7.9% for the same period. However, the Oregon Office of Economic Outlook forecasts that by the year 2040, North coast population will increase to the following levels: Clatsop County 39,368, Tillamook County 32,146, Lincoln County 57,247. That means an additional 21,666 people will reside on the north coast and use its resources. Will there be enough jobs for them? Housing? Will the watersheds sustain another 21,666 users, and how will highways accommodate the additional traffic? By 2040, Oregon's population is forecast to balloon to nearly 5.5 million.

How many of them will want to vacation on the beaches of the North Coast, and are these counties prepared for them?

Demographic Quick Facts

The populations of the three North Coast counties are older and less diverse than the rest of the state and the country.

  • The populations of the North Coast counties are 15.9% - 19.5% age sixty-five or older. Will this trend continue with more people retiring to the coast?
  • The North Coast Counties are 93-96% white. Can this remain so, given the steady flow of immigration occurring at the state, national and international levels?
  • The largest minority group consists of Hispanics, 6-7% of the population compared with 14.4% of population nationwide, and 9.9% of Oregon's residents.
  • American Indian and Alaska Native persons are a significant minority in Lincoln County at 3.1% of the population. The Confederated Tribes of the Siletz have their tribal headquarters and casino in Lincoln County.

The working people of the North Coast are involved in tourism, commercial fishing and forest products. Agriculture and dairy farming provide jobs in Tillamook County, while Lincoln County includes government jobs as well as the tribal casino. The March 2007 Oregon Economic and Revenue Forecast predicts a statewide downturn in wood product manufacturing by 7 percent in 2007 and 1.5 percent in 2008. If correct, this may have a direct negative effect on the economy of coastal counties. However, tourism (i.e. leisure and hospitality) is predicted to increase by 1.9 percent in 2007 and 2.3 percent in 2008.

The 2003 median household income nationally was $43,318 and in Oregon was $42,593. The three North coast counties were substantially less:

Area Median Household Income
Lincoln County $33,258
Tillamook County $34,727
Clatsop County $35,999

The home ownership (in 2000) rate for the counties was comparative to national and Oregon ownership:

Area Home Ownership Rate
USA 66.2%
Oregon 64.3%
Lincoln County 65.7%
Tillamook County 71.8%
Clatsop County 64.2%

Education level: 84-85% or North Coast residents are high school graduates, but fewer over the age of 25 who have a Bachelors degree.

County residents spend approximately 19-22 minutes traveling to work, as compared to 25.5 minutes nationwide.

The three counties had a total of 65,642 housing units in 2005. This accounted for approximately 4.2 percent of the units statewide. Lincoln County had the most units, but also the highest population of the three counties.

For more in-depth information about North Coast communities use the Oregon Communities Reporter.


Aikens, Melvin C. Archaeology of Oregon. Portland, OR: U.S. Dept. of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon State Office. 1993.

Courtney, E. Wayne. The Indians of Yaquina Bay. Corvallis, OR: Sanderling Press. 1989.

Ecotrust and Conservation International. The Rain Forests of Home: An Atlas of People and Place, Part 1: Natural Forests and Native Languages of the Coastal Temperate Rain Forest. Portland, OR: Ecotrust. 1995.

Loy, William G. et al. The Atlas of Oregon. Eugene, OR: University of Oregon. 2001.

Office of Economic Analysis. Demographic Forecast. Salem, OR: The State of Oregon. [Accessed April 13, 2007].

The Oregon Blue Book. Salem, OR: The Secretary of State. [Accessed April 12, 2007].

Oregon Employment Department. Local Area Employment Statistics. Salem, OR: The Department. [Accessed April 12, 2007].

Portland State University Population Research Center. Certififed Population Estimates for Oregon Counties. Portland, OR: The Center. 2005.

U.S. Census Bureau. QuickFacts from the U.S. Census Bureau. Washington, DC: The Census.

Willis, Samuel C. Late Pleistocene Lithic Technological Organization on the Southern Oregon Coast: Investigations at Indian Sands (35-CU-67C). M.A. Thesis. Oregon State University, Corvallis. 2005.

Compiled by Judy Mullen, Staff, OSU Libraries

North Coast