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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Idaho population forecast to grow at three times national rate through 2025, with biggest gain in retirees

Sam Wolkenhauer (State of Idaho)
Sam Wolkenhauer (State of Idaho)

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By Betsy Z. Russell

A new forecasting model developed by an Idaho Department of Labor regional economist with a math background suggests Idaho’s population will grow at three times the national rate between now and 2025 – and nearly all the new residents will be retirees moving to the state.

“A lot of it has to do with cost of living and natural amenities that are bringing in, especially, retirees,” said Sam Wolkenhauer, regional labor economist in Post Falls for the state department. “We’re kind of seeing this in the housing market – it’s really hot right now.”

Though Wolkenhauer’s job is to analyze the labor economy in North Idaho, his new forecasting model is for the state as a whole. “My educational background is mathematics, so I’m the one who developed it,” he said.

Wolkenhauer, 25, has been with the department for two years; he holds bachelor’s degrees in both mathematics and economics from Eastern Washington University. “I came to Labor fresh out of school,” he said.

The forecasting model predicts that Idaho’s populationwill grow 15.3 percent from 2015 to 2025, reaching 1.9 million. That’s an annual growth rate of 1.4 percent, nearly three times as high as the national growth rate.

In the model, Wolkenhauer said, “We’re looking at the actual different components of population change, such as birth rates and death rates and in-migration. So rather than just dealing with population as a bulk number, we’re looking at a number of different items that drive change.”

Those factors show declining birth rates and relatively low in-migration of families with children into the state, which historically has had a high proportion of children and young people. The under-15 population in Idaho, now 21.7 percent of the population, is predicted to decline to 20.5 percent by 2025.

Meanwhile, the over-65 population, which currently is just 14.7 percent of Idaho’s population, is predicted to account for 34.4 percent of the total growth through 2025, and increase to 17.3 percent of the population. That’s more than twice the rate of growth forecast for Idaho’s population as a whole.

“The main reason the growth rate for Idaho is going to be so fast is going to be in-migration,” Wolkenhauer said. “We’re forecasting very high levels of in-migration, especially to urban counties.”

The model suggests an increasing urbanization trend in Idaho, with more than two-thirds of the population growth expected to occur in the state’s three most-populated counties: Ada and Canyon in southern Idaho, and Kootenai County in North Idaho. By 2025, it shows the share of Idaho’s population living in urban counties increasing from 70.6 percent to 74.3 percent.

Wolkenhauer said the forecasting model should provide valuable numbers for a variety of uses in both government and the private sector. “We’re hoping they’ll be used for urban planning, for site selection, basically anyone that needs to know what the demographics are going to look like long-term,” he said. “That could be a site selector worried about either consumers or his labor force. Long-term, it can also be used for economic development and government planning, knowing what the populations are going to be and needs of the population based on aging patterns, because different counties are going to look very different long-term in terms of where the populations are.”

The model predicts that North Idaho’s population will grow from 225,007 in 2015 to 256,936 by 2025, a 14.2 percent increase. That makes it the third-fastest growing region in the state. Eastern Idaho’s population is forecast to grow by 16.8 percent in the same period; southwestern Idaho, including the Boise area, by 19.7 percent.

“Sam is very well respected in his region, by the business community, by the education community and by the local economic development organizations,” said Georgia Smith, Department of Labor spokeswoman. “He is extremely creative, he is gifted when it comes to math and economics, and he’s one of several critical thinkers that we have at the department who are looking at ways to use data to support sound decision making when it comes to policy issues like transportation, education, training, health care, you name it.”

She added, “We feel very fortunate to have somebody like Sam. The model that he’s developed will allow us to look ahead and identify opportunities and challenges that need to be addressed at both a regional and statewide level, and hopefully support some sound decision making when it comes to some key policies the state needs to face.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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