Idaho remains one of the country’s fastest-growing states, but its growth rate has slipped over the past three years, according to new numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau.
From July 2007 to July 2008, Idaho was the sixth fastest-growing state, with its population rising 1.8 percent. That’s down from fifth last year and fourth in 2005 and 2006, when it grew at a rate of 2.6 percent.
Washington finished in 11th place, up from 13th last year. The state finished 11th in 2006 and 16th in 2005. Washington’s growth rate this year was 1.5 percent.
The changes are part of a larger trend: As the housing crisis makes it more difficult for people to move, migration to the West and South is slowing.
Randy Barcus, chief economist for Avista, said the housing market collapse in California has had a particularly strong effect in Idaho.
“Idaho has been a huge beneficiary of out-migration from California. That’s the No. 1 source of people moving here directly,” Barcus said. “If you can’t leave because you can’t sell your house, you don’t move.”
Four of the 10 fastest-growing states – Utah, Arizona, Idaho and Nevada – are also big recipients of Californians looking to move, Barcus said.
The West was still the fastest-growing region, with a rate of 1.4 percent, but the South added the most people: 1.4 million new residents.
Only two states lost population. Michigan’s population declined 0.5 percent and Rhode Island’s fell 0.2 percent, census figures show.
Population growth is based on two primary factors, said Greg Harper, a demographer with the Census Bureau. One is domestic migration, or more people moving into a state than moving out. The other is natural increase, or more people being born than dying.
Utah has had the highest rate of natural increase for “quite a while,” Harper said.
In Idaho, Harper said, the biggest growth component this past year was natural increase, with a net gain of almost 14,000 people. Domestic migration slowed to 12,700 in 2008 from almost 20,000 in 2007, Harper said.
Barcus said Idaho’s low unemployment rate over the past two years resulted from high job creation coupled with fewer people moving to the state.
“That’s why employers were having such a hard time finding people to fill those positions,” he said. “Ordinarily you would feed that job growth with people moving here from other places, but when that freezes up, that has some perverse impacts in the labor market.”