Please pardon another statistics-heavy column, but the latest census numbers for Idaho cities and counties, covering the last decade, really are worth a little dwelling on.
Here’s one: The amount of population increase can be accounted for by very few places.
Ada County and Canyon County, which compose the biggest metro area in the state, but still make up just 40 percent of Idaho’s population overall, did account for about 58 percent of the state’s population increase. If Idaho’s population this year had been enough to account for a third congressional district, those two counties alone (out of the state’s 44) would have been far more than enough to populate more than a single congressional district. (In political terms, that means if the districts were artfully cut, the Ada-Can district could have been politically competitive between the parties. As it is … maybe in 2030.)
If we add in the population increase in Kootenai and Bonneville counties, those four counties account for 77 percent of the increase Idaho saw overall. The other 40 counties in the state contributed only a small sliver.
And not all of them contributed to the increase. Five counties - Butte, Clark, Custer, Fremont, Power - saw declines in population. More additional counties barely stayed on the plus side of the ledger.
You won’t have missed that the big population increases come in counties that are among the state’s largest, and the declines or static levels came in smaller population areas. The single most startling population increase anywhere in the state was in Meridian, in top-population Ada County, which went from 75,092 people a decade ago to 121,182 last year - an increase massive in both raw numbers (an increase that equals about a quarter of Idaho’s overall) and as a percentage (61.4 percent). The percentage growth in Eagle and Kuna were nearly as high.
But there are some complexities to the picture.
The numbers also show some curious population increases outside city limits, even in small population counties, even in regions that generally seem not to be growing much.
Look at small and away-from-the-metros Bear Lake County, which overall grew by 2.6 percent. Its five cities are all relatively small and grew just a little, but outside of them, population grew by 8.5 percent - close to four times as strongly as the county overall.
The population of Fairfield, the one city in Camas County, shrank over the last decade. But the rural area outside of town grew, by enough that the county in total registered a small population increase.
The rural areas in Caribou County grew close to three times as fast as the county overall. And so on.
Unincorporated areas around Idaho, in smaller and even some of the larger counties, outperformed their county overall in county after county: Adams, Bannock, Bingham, Boise, Bonneville, Boundary. Cassia, Gem, Gooding, Jefferson, Latah, Lincoln, Nez Perce, Jefferson, Oneida, Teton, Washington. (You’ll notice that Ada, Canyon and Kootenai counties, the most urban and suburban parts of the state, are not on this list.)
This looks like growth in a population of people who really don’t want to be around cities or suburbs. These look like people trying to get away from it all. It would be oversimplifying to suggest that there’s a significant amount of the Redoubt viewpoint in many of these places that have been picking up population. But probably there would be some truth in the idea.
So here’s something you might reasonably draw from the 2020 census in Idaho:
The urban and suburban population of the state is growing rapidly, and that will have, over time, an impact on the state’s politics.
But that growth appears to be countered, to a smaller but still significant degree, by the growth in many of the remote and unincorporated parts of the state.
Whose growth will be prevailing in the years to come?