While big metro areas and the vast majority of counties in the United States had more deaths than births in 2021, Idaho’s growth continues to top the charts.
Two metro areas in the Gem State were in the top ten for percent growth from July 2020 through 2021 in a batch of numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau last month. The Coeur d’Alene metro area came in at number two on the list, with 4.1% population growth and 7,143 new residents. The Treasure Valley came in slightly lower in the ranking at number 6 with 3.3% growth, but the bigger population means a lower percentage of growth still brought in 25,687 new residents.
This mirrors a long-term trend where Idaho outpaced national growth patterns due to people moving in from out of state, but it is even starker this year when the confluence of COVID-19, lower birth rates, and an aging population drove death rates higher than births. As places like Idaho, Utah, and Florida’s suburbs are booming, the country’s biggest metro areas like Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago lost more residents than anywhere else.
In 2019 and 2020, 45% and 55% of counties around the country had more deaths than births. That figure climbed to 73% last year. But, when you factor in migration from one place in the country to another within the United States, 58% of counties still saw a population increase.
This was especially driven by moves from dense urban counties to smaller or middle-sized ones, like Ada, Canyon, and Kootenai counties.
“The patterns we’ve observed in domestic migration shifted in 2021,” Dr. Christine Hartley, assistant division chief for estimates and projections in the Census Bureau’s Population Division, wrote on the bureau’s website. “Even though over time we’ve seen a higher number of counties with natural decrease and net international migration continuing to decline, in the past year, the contribution of domestic migration counteracted these trends so there were actually more counties growing than losing population.”
Statewide growth rate still slowing, rural Idaho gets a boost
While Idaho is still topping the growth charts, and the sea of new subdivisions tells us unequivocally that the Treasure Valley’s days as a sleepy farming community are over, we were not immune to the population pressures of the pandemic.
Idaho as a whole still has a natural increase in population or more births than deaths, but this increase is not as high as it was ten years ago. In 2010, the Census Bureau recorded roughly 11,000 more births than deaths statewide. This figure dropped steadily over the next decade, landing at roughly 4,300 in 2021. Only five counties statewide had a natural increase higher than the ten-year average for their county.
What changes the game for Idaho is the influx of new residents from higher-cost metro areas across the west, like California, Utah, Oregon, and Washington, Boise State University Research Associate Lantz McGinnis-Brown told BoiseDev. He said the pandemic boosted growth even in Idaho’s rural corners where things have been slower in the last decade.
“Even for some countries that haven’t been growing as much, 2020 and 2021 was a strong year for growth,” he said. “If you look at the last 10 year average for migration, every single county in Idaho had an immigration higher than their 10-year average.”
Between 2020 and 2021, the number of people moving into Idaho’s 38 rural counties nearly doubled from roughly 8,000 new residents to 15,000 last year. The counties with the highest percentage of in-migration last year were Boise County and Lewis County.