The latest data dump on population estimates running up through 2017 from the U.S. Census office offers, as usual, some numbers worth considering.
Two items in the latest round of Idaho statistics - you can see them at lmi.idaho.gov/census - seem especially worth pondering.
One of them is a chart showing the growth in Idaho population by raw numbers from 1969 through 2017 - broken out by county.
The differences are dramatic. Ada County had just over 100,000 people in 1969, and more than 450,000 now, a quadrupling of residents, which means the blue line on the chart zooms upward at better than a 45 degree angle. The growth in Ada in that time has been spectacular. The Census also reports the change in how much each county accounts for a percentage of the state’s population overall. Ada’s went from 15.6 percent in 1969 to 26.6 percent in 2017.
Below that on the county chart, a salmon line representing Canyon County rose about half as fast, from around 60,000 people to more than 220,000 - more than tripling. Kootenai County, which had about 35,000 people in 1969 - fewer than Twin Falls County - now has more than four times as many as it did back then. (For all the significant growth over the years in Twin Falls, that county now has about half as many people as Kootenai.) And Bonneville County has, in the last half-century, doubled its population.
But if you then look at the rest of Idaho’s counties, 38 or 39 of them, you see them all bunched together in something close to a straight line - almost no population change at all in 50 years. All that massive growth you’ve heard about in Idaho has happened in the space of only a few hundred square miles, a tiny sliver of the state.
We can parse this growth, in greater and lesser amounts, in lots of other ways too. One of them is by age.
While Idaho’s population has been growing overall different age groups have been growing at different paces. The state Department of Labor summarizes a piece of this:
“The number of Idaho’s seniors – people age 65 and older – grew nearly 8 percent from mid-2016 to mid-2017, the highest percentage of all age groups. Overall the state experienced a significant population increase of nearly 37,000 or 2.2 percent across all age groups for the same time period, according to estimates recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau. While the 2017 data shows Idaho’s senior group represented 33 percent of the total change in population, or one out of three people, all age groups experienced growth. The 19-and-younger age group and the 40- to 64-year-old groups grew by 1.5 percent each, while the 20- to 39-year-old age group grew 2.3 percent.”
But the impact of elder growth is not evenly divided among the counties. The report noted that, “Twenty-nine of Idaho’s counties had a median age above the state’s median age.”
And: “Adams County had the highest median age in the state at 55. Boise, Clearwater, Custer, Idaho and Lemhi counties, also has a median age older than 50. Madison County, home to BYU-Idaho, had the lowest median age in the state at 23, and Latah County, home to the University of Idaho, had the state’s second lowest median age at 29.” Put another way, the older-population counties are mostly the most rural.
So what’s the future for rural counties in Idaho? What’s the future for most counties in Idaho?
It may be time to start thinking not just about the future of the state, but about the future of its components.