Utah, Nevada, Idaho are fastest-growing states

Idaho was the third-fastest growing state in the country between mid-2015 and mid-2016, following Utah and Nevada, repspectively, according to numbers released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The state’s 1.8 percent growth — equaling an estimated 30,300 people — was more than a percentage point higher than the national average, bringing the state’s total population to 1,683,140.

It was Idaho’s largest increase since 2008, when the population expanded by 1.9 percent, or an estimated 29,200 people, according to the Idaho Department of Labor. It is a remarkable turnaround from just four years ago, when Idaho’s growth rate had dropped to 0.7 percent, equal with the national average.

Utah was the fastest-growing state. It led a cluster of Western states that also were on the population upswing despite sluggish national growth, according to the new numbers.

As the state that’s long had the country’s highest birth rate, Utah grew just more than 2 percent from July 2015 to July 2016, followed closely by Nevada, Idaho and Florida. Washington, Oregon and Colorado also took top percentage-growth spots.

The U.S. population, meanwhile, posted one of its lowest growth rates since the late 1930s, shortly after the Great Depression, said Brookings Institution demographer William Frey. That’s largely because baby-boomer generation population declines haven’t been fully replaced by new births or immigration.

Several Western states are bucking that trend as people are attracted by recovering economies and affordable housing, he said.

“As things start to inch up, people are finding good home values in central California, and that’s spilling out into other mountain West states,” he said, though in most places the growth doesn’t yet match pre-recession levels.

In Idaho, 90 percent of the growth can be tied to a high birth rate and domestic migration, according to the Department of Labor.

Idaho ranked fifth in the country for in-migration: Close to 19,000 people moved here from other states and countries over the course of the year. The birth rate, 13.7 births per 1,000 women, was the seventh-highest.

Idaho’s growth rate from 1990 through 2010 was always more than 1 percent. It exceeded 2 percent in the mid-2000s, and topped 3 percent in 1993 and 1994, according to Labor.

Other states that have been recent growth powerhouses flagged this year. North Dakota, for example, led the country for the past four years during an oil boom that started around 2004, but its growth slowed amid 2016’s weak crude prices.

Eight states had population losses this year, including three — Pennsylvania, New York and Wyoming — that posted gains last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Illinois had the biggest drop, losing more than 37,000 people.

In Utah, the growth was split nearly evenly between new births and in-migration of people attracted by the strong tech and financial industries, said Pam Perlich with the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. The state is also home base for the growing Mormon church.

Utah’s population passed the 3 million mark this year, a milestone for the state that’s nevertheless a far cry from the country’s most-populous states. No. 1 was California with more than 39 million, followed by Texas, with nearly 28 million people.

Still, Utah’s raw-number population growth ranked No. 11 in the country as the state added more than 60,000 people, Perlich said.

In Nevada, gaming-sector growth Las Vegas has paired with gains associated with a Tesla battery manufacturing plant in the north, pushing the overall population to just under 3 million people, said state demographer Jeff Hardcastle.