As we all learned when 1999 eased into 2000, calendar points like the one we’ll hit in a few days don’t really mark the mathematical end of a decade (or century, or millennium, in the earlier case). But when 2020 arrives, most of us will feel we’re moving into a new 10-year cycle.
It may be different than the last one, or so many people hope. In thinking about that, we might pause here for a moment to consider what the 2010s were like - and how they changed in our lives, our society and our politics.
Did Idaho change in this last decade? In any big ways, that is?
Idaho has grown over the last decade: More people, more business, more activity. It will not be quite enough for a new seat in Congress (if the growth continues apace, that realistically could happen in 2030) but it has been heavy nonetheless; next year it should be at least 1.8 million, compared with 1.57 million in 2010.
It hasn’t been uniform. Ada and Canyon counties have grown fastest overall (about 19 percent), then Kootenai County (about 16 percent) and several others in the low double digits (Bonneville, Twin Falls, Valley, Teton and Jefferson). These account for almost all of the significant growth in the Gem State.
Two points should be made about this. First, almost all of this growth is in the suburbs: Idaho is becoming steadily, maybe rapidly, more suburban. Second, the share of rural population is declining, and in some cases dropping outright. Counties like Gooding, Fremont, Washington, Benewah, Clark, Butte and Custer have been registering declines, and others are barely maintaining population and could slip. That will have an effect on the next round of redistricting, of course, but also on the way people there and beyond live and conduct business. (Notice the changes in property valuations, for one thing.) This isn’t new, but the trend looks to be accelerating.
There have been changes within the population too. The Latino portion has been growing, at faster rates. The same is true for the religiously-unaffiliated (tracking the national trend), which has ballooned to more than a quarter of the population; while the conservative Christian parts of the population remain dominant, its numbers have been slipping.
In the last decade, Idaho has been pulling in two directions on the age of the population. The state’s median age has remained a little below the national average (a result of larger-than-average families), but for much of the decade the over-65 population grew faster than the population overall. That population is becoming more concentrated, however, in rural counties that aren’t growing much. The growing suburban populace seems to be tilting toward a younger population.
And politics? The broad brush paints a picture of hardly any change at all in the last decade. The governor today was the governor-in-waiting, a close ally of his predecessor, through most of the 10s. The congressional delegation is little changed. The legislature is little changed; individuals have come and gone, but the partisan splits and ideological attitudes seem almost locked in place.
Such change as happened has been on the edges only. The activist Tea Party-turned-Trumpist segment of the Republican Party in Idaho was strong in 2010 and remains so today, though it seems to have persistently hit ceilings in its relative influence (in the last two governor’s races, for example).
For Democrats and people toward the left, the decade saw few successes, but there were two significant indicators that could point a way for them.
One was a legislative race breakthrough in 2018 in west Boise, which either could flicker out in 2020 or could become reinforced and spread; if the latter, Idaho politics might see some change in the decade ahead.
The other indicator is in ballot issues. In 2012 Idaho voters decisively rejected three major legislature-passed laws on public schools, and in 2018 they voted for Medicaid expansion, which the legislature had rejected. In 2020 they may consider and vote for a minimum wage increase. So far voters haven’t connected their decisions on such issues with their votes for legislators and other public officials, but that day may come.
There’s a sense here, maybe, that in the 2010s a door lightly cracked open, and in the 2020s it may open wider. We’ll see.