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Idaho population, job, economic growth expected to outpace country over next decade

ERIN BANKS RUSBY | March 18, 2024

A crew continues work on a multistory residential building currently under construction in downtown Boise on Feb. 13. As Idaho continues to grow in population, its economy will likely continue to the evolve as well.

Health care, construction, and manufacturing.

Idaho’s labor market and economy are expected to witness healthy growth between now and 2032, with the above sectors representing over one-third of new jobs created, according to a forthcoming report from the Idaho Department of Labor.

In general, Idaho’s economic and job growth over the next decade is projected to outpace the U.S. average, said Sam Wolkenhauer, an economist with the Idaho Department of Labor, who previewed the report’s findings during a webinar on March 12. The department will release its complete report in early April.

The department releases decade-long projections every two years, the purpose of which is to provide insight for proper growth in the state, he said.

“Jobs don’t grow magically,” Wolkenhauer said. “You need workers that are trained and able to fill those jobs effectively … we also need well-trained workers who can replace the baby boomers that are retiring that are taking their institutional knowledge and skills with them.”

Wolkenhauer broke down what is driving the trends the department is predicting in Idaho between now and 2032.

EXPANDING POPULATION, EXPANDING JOBSIn 2022, Idaho’s population was 1.92 million, with its population of workers at 876,000, Wolkenhauer said. By 2032, the population is expected to be 2.24 million, with the pool of workers just under 1 million, he said.

That translates to a 1.4-1.5% increase in population per year. In contrast, the U.S. annual population growth rate over the next decade is projected at just 0.6% per year, he said.

Such population growth is “much more conducive to a growing economy,” he said.

Idaho is projected to see higher growth across age groups compared to the rest of the country between now and 2032. The 16-and-under population is predicted to expand 6% compared to minus–0.4% nationally; the 16-65 age group, or working-age population, is predicted to expand 14% compared to 2% nationally; while the 65-plus crowd is expected to grow 31% in Idaho versus 25% nationally, Wolkenhauer said.

While a fair amount of Idaho’s population will be retirees, Wolkenhauer characterized the growth in other age categories as “better balanced” compared to the nation. Between now and 2032, Idaho’s labor force is expected to grow a little over 15%, adding about 120,000 jobs, compared to just 4% nationally, he said.

“The math is pretty clear: Idaho is very fortunate to be a high-growth state with a lot of things working in its favor in terms of labor force,” Wolkenhauer said.

HEALTH CAREIdaho has steadily added health care jobs since the ’90s, Wolkenhauer said, showing a graph with a nearly straight line. By 2032, about 140,000 Idaho workers are expected to work in health care, representing about 15% of the state’s economy, he said.

Health care tends to be a higher-paying industry in the state, and an aging population of retirees is expected to drive even more demand for health services, Wolkenhauer said.

The baby boom generation is the largest, wealthiest, and healthiest generation the U.S. has ever had, he said. Baby boomers own approximately two-thirds of all financial assets in the country, he said.

“It all adds up to an enormous population that’s likely to be very proactive with health care spending,” Wolkenhauer said.

CONSTRUCTIONThe housing crisis felt across the U.S. has origins in the Great Recession, which brought a crash in the housing market at a time when millennials were making career choices, Wolkenhauer said.

Many witnessed the sinking housing market and chose not go into construction in the same numbers that previous generations had, Wolkenhauer said.

A glimpse of the Micron campus along South Federal Way in Boise in this 2019 photo. Population growth and growth in Idaho’s manufacturing, health care, and construction industries is expected to drive job creation in the state through 2032, according to a new forthcoming report from the Idaho Department of Labor.

“This created a structural shortage of construction workers that has been really hard to dig out of,” Wolkenhauer said.

With fewer people entering construction in the 2010s, the age of construction workers increased, and more jobs were left vacant, he said. Throughout the 2010s, homebuilding in Idaho on a per capita basis lagged behind homebuilding rates in the 90s, he said.

But by 2020, Idaho had finally dug itself out of its construction worker hole, and has added construction jobs “really, really quickly” over the past several years, Wolkenhauer said.

“What this speaks to is simply the fact that Idaho has a pent-up need for housing, and that creates a strong demand for construction workers,” he said. Federal infrastructure bills are also fueling demand for construction workers, he said.

MANUFACTURINGOne area where Idaho has really bucked a national shrinkage trend is in manufacturing, Wolkenhauer said. While the U.S. has seen manufacturing shrink 30% since the 90s, manufacturing in Idaho has grown 40% over the same period, he said.

Idaho’s three main manufacturing industries are wood processing, food processing, and semiconductor production, he said.

Wolkenhauer said food processing is “harder to outsource because the crops are grown here; they’re processed here.” And semiconductor manufacturing doesn’t exist in much of the country, he said.

“So we’ve had a really good mix of industries that have sustained manufacturing growth,” Wolkenhauer said, emphasizing how unique Idaho’s story is. “Most states do not have an economist that can come up here and tell you with a straight face that manufacturing is growing and it is a source of strength for the state.”

Growth in this sector will be fueled in part by the CHIPs Act, a federal law passed in 2022 that aims to fuel semiconductor manufacturing in the U.S. Following the act’s passage, Boise-based Micron, a semiconductor manufacturing company, announced plans to spend $15 billion over the next decade in building a new Boise factory.

Erin Banks Rusby covers Caldwell and Canyon County. She reports on local government, agriculture, the environment, and more. She can be reached at

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