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Idaho population could hit 2 million any day now, passing Nebraska. Thanks, California!

Stock image by Cameron Casey
Idaho, one of the least populous states in the country, is gaining traction in the national population rankings as out-of-state migration numbers push the state to nearly 2 million residents despite a slowdown from the highs of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Many are coming from the coastal states of Washington, Oregon and California, but others such as Utah and Nevada are also contributing heavily to parts of the state.
With many pandemic-era travel and immigration restrictions lifted, international immigration also played a part in the state’s growth over the last year.
Here are three key findings in the latest data.
1. Idaho’s population may top 2 million in 2024
Recent numbers provided by the Idaho Department of Labor show the state’s population grew by nearly 26,000 people between July 2022 and July 2023 to nearly 1,965,000 people. This puts it fourth nationally in percentage growth, according to a Friday press release.
Idaho is the 38th most populous state in the country, nearly 200,000 residents ahead of West Virginia and roughly 14,000 residents behind Nebraska, according to U.S. Census Bureau numbers. But Idaho could soon pass Nebraska with a growth rate two-and-a-half times higher than its Midwestern counterpart. Nebraska had 1.96 million people in the 2020 census, Idaho 1.84 million.
The state should hit the 2 million mark within the next two years, according to Jan Roeser, southwestern regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor.
“To me, it almost feels like we’ll nudge up against it (this year),” Roeser said by phone.

The state’s population stood at just over 717,000 total residents in 1970 and could pass the 2 million mark in 2024 or 2025. Ada County, in blue, has the largest population followed by Canyon County, in pink, Kootenai County, in peach, and Bonneville County, in light purple. | Idaho Statesman

Matthew Hurt, economist at the Idaho Division of Financial Management, said during a Jan. 4 meeting of the Legislature’s Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Committee that his office predicts the state will hit that mark this winter.
The state first crossed the 1 million mark in 1990, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, and swelled during the pandemic at a “breakneck pace,” Roeser said. That migration has cooled off, with domestic migration dropping from 51,000 in 2021 to just over 15,000 in 2023.
“This is happening to a lot of places that really were hit during the pandemic,” Roeser said. “People have gradually started going back to the big cities.”
But the state’s population growth rate in 2023 was still over double the national average of 0.5%, according to the department.
The Idaho Department of Labor attributed 78% of the state’s population growth to primarily domestic migration and 22% to natural change, meaning births minus deaths. Natural change accounted for 10% of the state’s population growth in 2022.
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1. Moves within Idaho fall, but migration between states rises
Ninety percent of the state’s population growth has come from migration since the 2020 census, Hurt said. But overall migration is changing as county to county migration continues to fall and cross-state migration amps up.
“That’s important for the country to understand, but I think it’s particularly important for Idaho to understand, as we project the state will continue to grow through migration,” Hurt said.
He noted that there was a substantial increase in migration toward the end of the 2010s, which could be similar to how the state grows in the next decade.
“It’s easy to be blindsided by the pandemic,” Hurt said. “The state grew very substantially during that period, and oftentimes the migration that began really picking up speed post-2015 gets lost in that discussion.”
RELATED | People are moving to Idaho in droves. But who’s moving out?
Idaho Division of Financial Management models showed that two-thirds of Idaho’s predicted revenue growth through the 2028 fiscal year would be added through migration, according to Hurt.
Southwest Idaho sees the biggest migration from California, with 33% of those migrating to the region coming from California. Of those leaving Southwest Idaho, 19% are heading to Oregon, Hurt said.
Indeed, California is the No. 1 source of migrants to Idaho. For every Idaho family that moves to California, Idaho gets three back, he said.
“California totally dominates the net migration story, and it really is because Californians come to Idaho,” he said. “Idahoans don’t really go to California.”
But other states contribute. In northern Idaho, the biggest source of migrants is Washington. Migration from Utah dominates the east and southeast of the state.
”It’s so easy to get caught up in the story of the pipeline of Los Angeles to Ada and Canyon County … but migration is, and it always has been, a regional phenomenon,” he said. “Idaho has distinct regions and distinct migration experiences worth keeping in mind whenever we’re talking about migration.”
2. Immigration from Ukraine rises
International migration also swelled from 5% of Idaho’s growth in 2022 to 18% in 2023, with an additional 4,664 residents.
Holly Beech, communications manager for the Idaho Office for Refugees, said part of the reason for the jump was that COVID-19 policies restricted international migration and resettlement programs.
International migration to Idaho climbed again after the fall of Kabul as the Taliban captured control of Afghanistan when the U.S. military pulled out in 2021, and with the war in Ukraine, she said.
“A bunch of states stepped up to help,” Beech said by phone.
The state welcomed over 1,200 refugees between October 2022 and October 2023, according to the Idaho Office for Refugees. The office expects to welcome just over 1,000 in fiscal year 2024.

The state welcomed just over 1,200 refugees in 2022 and 2023, breaking the previous record set in 2016 of 1,114 people. | Idaho Office for Refugees
The largest group of refugees came from the Congo at 558, followed by Ukraine with 292 and Afghanistan with 132.
Roeser said military personnel at Mountain Home Air Force Base who may be returning from international assignments could also have contributed to the increase, as they are counted as international migrants.
Hurts said domestic migration still dwarfs international migration.
3. Which county grew faster: Ada or Canyon?
The Boise metropolitan statistical area, which includes Ada, Canyon, Owyhee, Boise and Gem counties, continues to have a commanding lead in the state population.

The higher a county’s population, the darker its shading on this map. Ada and Canyon counties, lower left, have the largest populations, followed by Kootenai County near the top and Bonneville County on the right. | Idaho Department of Labor; US Census Bureau

Nearly 45% of all Idahoans reside within the Boise metropolitan area, according to the department.
But Hurt said Ada County was not the fastest-growing county between April 2020 and July 2022.
“Canyon County grew much faster,” Hurt said. “You have Boundary and Bonner County up north, as well, growing (with) some of the fastest rates.”
The post Idaho population could hit 2 million any day now, passing Nebraska. Thanks, California! appeared first on East Idaho News.

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