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idaho RANDY
The Idaho

UPDATE: Belatedly, I heard the original source for some of this analysis was a report by StateImpact Idaho, by Emilie Ritter Saunders. So noted.

A piece of demographic analysis reported widely a week ago, about shifting tends in the makeup of Idaho’s population, deserves some serious thought well beyond the thumb-tacked issue it highlighted.

That reason, as KTVB-TV’s web article said, was that it is “a change that’s alarming some jobs experts.” That’s not wrong. There’s a good reason the shifts in Idaho age groups – the state is losing younger people and attracting what is referred to as a “gray tsunami” – ought to concern those analysts; it really does have an effect on the labor force, which in turn affects business development.

Longer-term trend lines weren’t immediately available, and that would have helped nail down the point. But there is some evidence things are moving in this direction; labor analysts found that in March another 1,400 people left the Idaho labor force.

But surely (to reiterate here the point again, albeit that some of the numbers came from the state Department of Labor) there are concerns that range well beyond those of business executives.

The analysis grew in large part out of a look at data from the state Transportation Department records, mainly drivers and other license information, to figure out where adults (and some teenagers) come from to Idaho, and where they go from the state. Historically, those numbers have been interesting, but larger conclusions are difficult to draw. They’re not so difficult this time,

The report said that in 2012, net outmigration – people moving away from Idaho as opposed to moving in – was at higher levels, higher than in more than a decade. Bob Fick of the Department of Labor, which also tracks these kind of statistics, said “That’s the first time we’ve had an outmigration from the 80s. … Will we have the labor force to man a recovery?”

The reason for concern is not so much the overall numbers but the age cohorts: People in their 20s were disproportionately moving out, and people above 60 disproportionately were moving in.

One impact, Fick suggested, is a slowing the “goods” (partly, manufacturing) economy, which generates relatively high-wage jobs, and more service jobs – reflecting what younger vs. older consumers tend to buy. That may translate to lower overall wages (Idaho ranks high on the percentage of workers at the minimum wage), and a softer consumer economy.

Let’s look at this through a political lens.

Where are the new Idahoans coming from? Washington and California are the two biggest states. Many (certainly not all) of the people moving from there to Idaho are people escaping a social and political climate they don’t like, for one in Idaho they think will be more to their liking. Combine that with the overall national trends for younger and older voters, and you get an influx of more conservative and Republican voters, and departures by younger and more liberal and Democratic voters.

If you want a sense of where Idaho may be headed in the next decade or two, if current trends hold for a few more years, this may be a good snapshot: An intensified version of what’s here now.

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