Idaho’s population growth slowed last year and the average age of its residents rose.
The number of young Idahoans moving into the state dropped 40 percent between July 2014 and July 2015, according to the Idaho Department of Labor, which looked at the growth in the number of residents in their 20s and 30s. This age group is an important part of the workforce that added 6,422 Idaho residents in 2014, but only 3,735 in 2015.
The downward shift in young population growth tracks with data that the economic consulting firm ECONorthwest has collected from around the country over the last several years, said Kevin Cahill, a research economist who is project director at ECONorthwest in Boise.
“The takeaway is that we are aging as a population,” Cahill said.
A year’s worth of demographic data is of limited value, but the downturn could grow into a larger trend, according to Ethan Mansfield, regional economist with the Idaho Department of Labor.
Mansfield said cities like Boise managed to attract young workers, but many places in Idaho lost younger workers because they were drawn to larger cities.
“There is a nationwide trend of younger folks moving to bigger cities and I think that is exactly what is happening here,” Mansfield said. “The trend of younger people moving out is even stronger in smaller communities like Coeur d’Alene, Twin Falls and Idaho Falls. Eastern Idaho is keyed into Salt Lake City’s gravitational pull and north Idaho is keyed into the gravitational pull of Spokane and Seattle. That is a huge issue for retention.”
Idaho’s population is aging faster than the nation’s, according to the Idaho Department of Labor. The number of Idahoans age 65 and older increased 24 percent from mid-2010 to mid-2015, compared to an increase of 18 percent nationally.
Low fertility rates and longer life expectancy also play a role. When the baby boomers were born, the nation’s fertility rate was about 4.0 — meaning the average woman would have four children. Since then, it has halved, Cahill said. Meanwhile, remaining life expectancy at the age of 65 has grown from 12 years for men and women to 19 years for women and 16 years for men.
“We are going to see a permanent change in our age distribution,” said Cahill. “By 2030, 20 percent of the population will be above the age of 65.”
Nationally, the portion of residents over age 65 rose from 13 percent to 15 percent between 2010 and 2015. Idaho started with a younger population than the rest of the country, but it is tracking at about the same rate – going from 12.4 percent of the population being over the age of 65 to 14.7 percent.
Idaho’s aging is expected to continue as more baby boomers enter their late 60s and birth rates stay low. Idaho saw an increase of 47,319 residents age 65 or older between mid-2010 and mid-2015, but an only added 2,237 residents age 19 or younger, according to the Department of Labor.
The aging of Idaho will affect economic growth and will leave a projected 63,000 jobs unfilled by 2025, according to the Idaho Department of Labor.
Idaho employers will have to attract out-of-state workers at a faster rate and encourage senior employees to delay retirement in order to navigate the workforce gap, the Department of Labor said.
The trend will affect rural counties disproportionately, according to the US Census Bureau. Idaho’s 35 rural counties added more than 38,000 residents between 2001 and 2015 but only 1 percent, 644, of those were children under the age of 14. Thirty percent, 11,403, were working age residents between the ages of 15 and 64. The remaining 26,160 new residents were all over the age of 65.
The age distribution among new residents was more even in urban counties, with larger growth in the number of prime age workers. Counties near Idaho’s largest cities added 291,909 residents between 2001 and 2015. Nineteen percent were children, 58 percent were of prime working age, and 23 percent were over the age of 65.