Oregon Coast Visitors Association releases economic assessment for coastal counties

Study: South Coast is trending toward greater reliance on retirees

The South Coast (coastal Douglas, Coos, and Curry counties) economy has become more reliant on retirement and other public benefit programs for income over the past nearly two decades, according to a recent study commissioned by the Oregon Coast Visitors Association.

Overall in 2021, transfers from public programs such as Social Security, medical benefits, income maintenance and other programs made up 38 percent of the population’s total income in Coos, 44 percent in Coastal Douglas and 41 percent in Curry County. Another 44 percent of the Coos County population’s income was derived from traditional employment. Identified industries in the employment category included commercial fishing, agriculture, timber, travel tourism and others. In Coastal Douglas, that number came in at 45 percent and Curry it was 36 percent. Income from investments and private pensions accounted for 18 percent, 12 percent, and 23 percent, respectively in Coos, coastal Douglas, and Curry counties.

The study, which investigates the drivers of coastal economies and economic benefit, uses 2021 data and compares it to numbers from 2003. Reports are available coastwide, as well as on a county-by-county basis. The research was conducted by Shannon Davis of The Research Group LLC, a Corvallis-based company and assisted by Hans Radtke, Ph.D. from Yachats. The report is designed as a resource to help coastal communities with useful information that informs planning and recommendations to planners and policymakers. 

The study updates the indicators and analysis first used in a 1994 study report sponsored by the Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association (OCZMA). That organization sponsored several updates to the original study ending with a 2006 report using 2003 data.

“Efforts for determining desired economic goals, objectives and programs, through the use of this report, can be more focused, rather than having to generate background information,” Oregon Coast Visitors Association Executive Director Marcus Hinz said. “The information can support and help us understand the implications of change and how proper planning can sustain and acceptably grow coastal economies, protect coastal livability and manage human and environmental resources. Because this study replicates the methodology of previous OCZMA studies, it offers us all longitudinal perspective allowing us to see what has changed in the past two decades and it is comparable data across all coastal counties which will allow us to collaborate and plan our future together.”

In the period from 2003 to 2021, the proportion of earnings from traditional employment in Coos and Coastal Douglas Counties diminished, providing nearly 8 percent less relative to total personal income in each county. In Curry County, that percentage dropped by about 5 percent. In the meantime, Coos County’s transfer income jumped from just over 25 percent of the county population’s income in 2003 to 38 percent in 2021. This signals greater presence of retirees and potentially families receiving other public assistance benefits. Coastal Douglas County’s reliance on transfers skyrocketed from 26 percent in 2003 to 44 percent in 2021. Curry County’s increase in transfers was comparable to Coos County, rising from 29 percent in 2003 to 41 percent in 2021.

“The growth of transfer payments income – particularly from retirees – represents a major and increasing source of purchasing power in many coastal areas,” Radtke said. “Coastal areas that capture an increasing share of economic benefit from retirement income could see some employment stability. However, we don’t know enough yet about these retirees’ spending patterns, effects on infrastructure and public services, or living needs.”

Coastwide, 44 percent of earnings came from work in one of the coastal industries in 2021, while 18 percent were derived from personal investments and 38 percent came from transfers. Between 2003 and 2021, income from Social Security, medical benefits and public assistance more than doubled, rising from $1.8 billion in 2003 (inflation adjusted to 2021 dollars) to about $4.8 billion in 2021. This is due to the increasing population as well as shifts in the sources of income.

Information for the report was gleaned from statewide studies authored by others and census data, in addition to unique industry category economic base modeling. The categories are particular to coastal local economies. Modeling results for each income measurement include multiplier effects, so that all economic contributions from household spending are taken into account. Results are interpreted for the challenges and comparative advantages the Coast has for economic development.

For purposes of the study, the coastwide area includes seven counties fronting the Pacific Ocean, and information also is provided separately in the report for Columbia County. Of the seven counties included in the study, two – Douglas and Lane – are split by zip code so that only the coastal portions are represented.

“The study reports were well received, as they showed the importance of industry categories displayed side-by-side,” Hinz said. “This puts in perspective the business types that drive local economies. This is a crucial consideration when advocates are vying for scarce funds and priorities for their own projects and programs.”

Report documents can be accessed online at https://visittheoregoncoast.com/industry/industry-planning-documents/.

*Year 2021 is the most recent year at study start in which total personal income information is available at the county level from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The year coincides with the coronavirus pandemic duration that has general economy and social relief program influences.

Oregon Coast Visitors Association

The Oregon Coast Visitors Association (OCVA) is the official Regional Destination Management Organization for the entire Oregon Coast as designated by the Oregon Tourism Commission (dba Travel Oregon). OCVA inspires travel and strengthens collaboration to create and steward a sustainable coastal economy.

OCVA has the honor of working with coastal communities to align partnerships, destination development projects, and destination marketing with the vision of creating “a coastal utopia for all.” This includes coastal stakeholders, new and returning visitors, and the natural resources that make these coveted experiences so magical.