Education Levels Rising in Idaho

The education level of Idaho’s workforce rose steadily after World War II as more youth completed higher levels of education than previous generations and replaced retiring workers with less education.

Educational levels have grown more slowly in the past couple decades, and today’s retirees have roughly the same educational level as the young adult population of the generation preceding them.

Of the young Idahoans today – those age 25 to 34 – about 91 percent are high school graduates and 25 percent have earned bachelor’s or advanced degrees, according to the Census Bureau. In 1990, 85 percent of that same age group had graduated from high school and 16 percent had bachelor’s degrees or higher. Since then, that group – now age 45 to 64 – slightly increased its educational attainment to 26 percent with a college degree or higher.

Idaho’s educational attainment remains below the nation’s. While about 25 percent of Idaho’s population age 25 years and over has earned a bachelor’s or higher degree, about 29 percent of Americans 25 years and over have.

Payroll Jobs 25 and Older table

  • The biggest increase came from those who have attended college but did not earn a bachelor’s degree. About one-third have associate degrees – whether in academic or professional-technical fields – and some others have earned sought-after certificate. Most dropped out of college. The surge in nursing, nursing aide and physical therapist aide jobs also contributed to some of the growth.
  • Women make up 48.8 percent of the workforce in Idaho today, slightly above 47.2 percent 20 years ago.
  •  Women increased their educational attainment faster than men so the number of women in the workforce with bachelor’s degrees or higher grew 56.5 percent from 1994 to 2014 while the number of men with degrees rose half as fast – 28.4 percent. Women make up 49.8 percent of the payroll workers with bachelor’s degrees or higher today, compared with 44.9 percent 20 years ago.
  • Workers with bachelor’s degrees or higher grew 41 percent between 1994 and 2014, about the same pace as all workers.

The large percent increase in jobs held by workers without high school or general equivalency diplomas despite the increase in the percentage of adults who have graduated from high school occurred for various reasons:

  • A large increase in foreign-born individuals working in Idaho’s agricultural, construction, cleaning, landscaping and service sectors. Between 1990 and 2013, Idaho’s foreign-born population grew 230 percent from 28,905 to 95,525, and about 41 percent of foreign-born residents 25 years and over had not completed high school.
  • Welfare reform in the late 1990s greatly increased the proportion of low-skilled women who are working.
  • An increase in the number of older workers without high school diplomas, who continue working today instead of retiring. In the past, fewer people without high school diplomas worked for years in manufacturing, railroads and other types of industries that offered pensions. Now more work in service sectors that do not offer any retirement benefits so they need to work longer.
  • Higher divorce rates and growing tendencies for children to be born out of wedlock resulted in more women without high school diplomas working to support their families.
  • An increase in the workforce of people with intellectual disabilities.
  • Many low-skilled jobs are part time so many low-skilled individuals have more than one job.

Of Idaho’s six regions, the southwest had the largest percentage of payroll jobs held by people with bachelor’s degrees or higher – 24.4 percent. Eastern Idaho was second with about 22.8 percent of jobs held by college graduates, largely because of the Idaho National Laboratories and its contractors. The north central region’s high proportion of advanced-degree jobs at the University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College was offset by the relatively low educational attainment in other mainstay industries including forest products, agriculture and leisure and hospitality so 21.7 percent of its jobs were held by college grads. The south central region, where agriculture and food processing are major players, has the smallest percentage of college grads at 18.2 percent.

Percent of Idaho Payroll Workers by Region

The Idaho sectors that employ the highest percentage of workers 25 and older without high school diplomas or equivalencies are agriculture, forestry and fishing at 30.5 percent; accommodation and food service at 19.1 percent; and construction at 16.7 percent.

The sectors that employ the highest percentage of workers 25 and older with college degrees are professional, scientific and technical services at 35.6 percent; educational services at 33.6 percent; and finance and insurance at 32.5 percent.

Percent by Industry

Education’s Benefits

As a rule, the more educated workers are, the less likely they are to be unemployed and the more likely they are to work more hours during a year, earn higher hourly wages and have more options.

The average Idaho payroll worker 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree earns 60.4 percent more than the average worker with a high school diploma and no further schooling.



Unemployment rates for high school dropouts tend to be higher than for all workers while unemployment rates for people with college degrees tend to be much lower.

Unemployment Rates

Adults who have not completed high school or earned an equivalency are nearly four times as likely to live in poverty as those with college degrees.

In 2013, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey found that 24.1 percent of Idahoans 25 and older who were not high school graduates were living in poverty compared to 6.3 percent of Idahoans with college degrees. Poverty rates

Global Competition

The competitiveness of countries – and states – depends on raising skill levels, and that largely depends on education.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the United States led the world in educational attainment. It was the first country to institute free and compulsory education in public schools. In the early 20th century, its high schools had mass attendance. By the 1960s, the majority of its young people were attaining at least some postsecondary education. The U.S. led the world in the percentage of its workforce with a four-year degree until 2008 when Norway passed it. Now, Canada, Japan and New Zealand have higher percentages as well. Other countries will pass the U.S. in the next few decades because in 2012 America’s 25- to 34-year-olds ranked eighth in bachelor’s degree completion, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Idahoans making decisions about their careers should focus on the skills required and determine what certifications, majors and degrees they need, and Idaho schools – from kindergarten through postgraduate programs – must design programs to teach the skills needed to make Idaho globally competitive., regional economist
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