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Decade long population increase in Idaho shows "we're no longer in the middle of nowhere"

A new University of Idaho study confirms the state is the fastest growing in the US. But the researcher behind the report says it’s important to look beyond the bottom line to fully understand the real changes happening in the state.

In 2011, 33,000 people moved to Idaho. Ten years later? That number had doubled. According to the DMV data analyzed by Jaap Vos, from the Planning and Natural Resources Department in Moscow, the population is not just steadily increasing, it’s also changing.

Vos looked at data from the Idaho Transportation Department and the U.S. Census Bureau to offer a more nuanced picture of migration to and from Idaho.

When new residents move into Idaho, they have to swap their old ID for a new one. This gave Vos numbers on where people are coming from. And turns out, it’s not just coastal Californians showing up in Ada County.

“If you look at eastern Idaho, we also have a lot of people coming from Utah. If you look at northern Idaho, we also have a lot of people coming from Washington,” Vos explained.

And the net increase doesn’t fully reflect demographic changes. While about 180 new residents move to Idaho every day, 137 also leave. This means Idaho is losing more residents than a quick glance at the population growth may indicate. Over a decade, Vos' research showed about half a million residents have left the state.

This trend precedes the pandemic, though the impactof the last few years has yet to be fully analyzed.

“As planners, we really need to start looking at what it means that we're changing so much. What does it mean for our communities?” Vos said. “What does it mean if we get a lot of new people moving in, but at the same time, a lot of other people moving out?”

Vos said he found most people moving here are in their 20s, 30s and 50s.

“What I found really surprising with this was how transient young people are,” he added. “So that group between 20 and 30 years, over the last ten years, they have become much more mobile. They've become much more likely to move.”

The license data showed 20-year-olds are moving and leaving at the highest rate, keeping that population steady. People in their 30s, however, are moving here and staying, increasing the total number of older millennials in Idaho.

Vos says Idaho has become a place for developers and industries to invest in, and these population changes need to be taken into consideration for any future planning. This can be especially important in rural communities where a change in residents can be more visible to locals.

“We're no longer in the middle of nowhere," Vos said. “And I would argue we're in the middle of all the action. We're not isolated. We've been discovered"

As the Canyon County reporter, I cover the Latina/o/x communities and agricultural hub of the Treasure Valley. I’m super invested in local journalism and social equity, and very grateful to be working in Idaho.

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