Census 2020 Confirms Idaho Ranks Second Nationally in Population Growth

Idaho’s population grew 17.3% in the 10 years since the 2010 Census, which was the second-fastest rate nationally, to Utah’s first-place growth of 18.5%. During the decade, the state netted 271,524 new residents through natural increases and in-migration internationally and from other U.S. states. After Utah and Idaho, the top five growth states included Texas, North Dakota and Nevada.

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Census 2020 reports that among Idaho’s 200 cities and towns, 37 outpaced the state growth rates from 2010 to 2020. This data springboards off the Aug. 12, 2021, release of Census 2020 statistics and is commonly referred to as redistricting data.

It provides information necessary for the process of redrawing political boundaries, both statewide and locally, after each decennial census. The largest numerical increases were in and around the capital city of Boise and the surrounding Treasure Valley, contributing mightily to the headline-grabbing growth.

Population Increases

The top 10 Idaho communities with the highest growth rates had a combined increase of 75,000 people and contributed about 28% to the state’s overall growth. Meridian grew by 56.7% or a significant 42,543 residents, outperforming the capital city of Boise that grew by 14.5% or just over 30,000 people. Meridian made national headlines as it ranked fourth in growth among cities in the U.S. with populations more than 50,000.

Other increases of note include the Treasure Valley bedroom communities of Star, Middleton and Kuna which added thousands of new housing units over the past decade. Combined population growth totaled nearly 18,000, with growth rates ranging from 57% to 92%. See Table 1.

Population Decreases

Seventy Idaho communities experienced population declines. Comparing the population totals from 2010 with 2020, approximately 3,500 fewer people were living in the combined 70 communities, moving the aggregate from almost 42,000 to a little over 38,000 ‒ a drop of 8.8%.

Sixty of the 70 communities that lost population had fewer than 1,000 residents. The other 10 communities had populations above 1,000 ‒ six from northern Idaho and north central Idaho, two from southwestern Idaho, and one each from south central and southeastern Idaho. In eastern Idaho, Ashton’s population declined by 178 while Challis experienced a similar loss of 179 pulling both below the 1,000 total population level. Orofino in north central Idaho experienced the largest numerical population loss in Idaho at 438. See Table 2.

The continuing growth trend is in urban areas while the rural areas are less dynamic. The largest share of growth occurred in southwestern Idaho, home to Boise — the capital city and center of government. It ranks high nationally for levels of in-migration, community amenities and livability, although the increased population continues to drive up real estate prices. The in-migration is also creating stress throughout the state as communities determine how best to pay for growth without pricing out its long-standing residents. Southwestern Idaho contributed to more than half of the decade-long growth in the state and has the largest share of the population among the regions at 46%, an uptick of two points from Census 2010. See Chart 1.

North central and southeastern regions experienced the slowest growth over the decade. Both areas offer jobs, universities with educational opportunities and outdoor recreation — normal attractions to those moving to Idaho, but these regions did not keep pace with northern, southwestern and eastern Idaho, which had four times the growth. While southwestern Idaho contributed the largest share of growth at 57%, the region accounts for just 46% of the population. See Chart 2.


South central Idaho continues to thrive, though its population growth did not outpace the state average and the growth it experienced was not to the levels of northern, southwestern and eastern regions of Idaho. See Chart 3.


When comparing city with county dwellers, it is clear municipalities are growing faster than areas outside city limits. The population share living within a city or town’s footprint increased since the 2010 Census from 68.7% to 70.7%. Those living outside the city limits saw their population increasing by 9.7%, but its share of the total population dropped from 31.3% to 29.3%. Populations living within cities grew more than twice that at 20.8%. See Chart 4.

Many issues affect people’s decisions to live in less dense areas versus urban areas. Services and jobs are typically paramount, but public policy can play an integral role in nudging flows of migration such as the state’s investment in broadband connectivity in rural areas of Idaho. This investment enables remote workers to flourish. Apprenticeship opportunities accessible through community college programs, reach youth who want to stay in their hometowns or career changers in rural areas.

Table 2

Jan.Roeser@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
Idaho Department of Labor
(208) 735-2500 ext. 3639