Growing Population: Understanding and Preparing for Big Things to Come

May 10th, 2017 | By | Category: Commentary

By Robert Spendlove/ Zions Bank Economic and Public Policy Officer

Robert Spendlove (1)The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, famously said, “the only constant is change.” This is true in all aspects of life, but it is especially true when considering population growth.  The nature of population change, including the rate, composition, and nature of population growth can have profound impacts on a geographical area and the people and communities that reside there.  Population change is a fundamental component of any society but the nature of change is often difficult to understand.

The Fundamentals of Population Change

Changes in an area’s population are caused by natural increase and migration.  Natural increase occurs when births outnumber deaths during a period of time.  Natural increase tends to change gradually, although growth often happens in waves.  The most famous wave recently was the large “baby boom” from 1946 to 1964.  Migration occurs when people move in or out of an area, and is much more volatile than natural increase.  If more people are moving into an area than out of the area, it will experience net in-migration.  However, if more people move out than move in, the area will experience net out-migration.

The U.S. and the West are Experiencing Strong Population Growth

Idaho Population Growth Rates by CountyWhile many areas in the world are enduring stagnant population growth and out-migration, the United States continues to grow consistently, through both natural increase and in-migration.  The U.S. population is now around 325 million and is projected to grow to 417 million by 2060.  This reflects continued, albeit moderating, natural increase, combined with continued international migration.  America has always attracted people who want the opportunities and freedom available in our country and this is expected to continue in the future.
Within the United States, the West continues to attract people.  The West continues to be one of the fastest growing regions in our country.  This is reflected in the movement of the center of population in the United States.  The center population has consistently moved west and south since the founding of the U.S. and is now located near Plato, Missouri.

Strong Population Growth is Related to Strong Economic Growth

The Western U.S. continues to experience strong population growth as more people seek the quality of life and access to outdoor recreation.  The Intermountain West has the strongest economic environment in America and is seeing the highest job growth in the country.  For the past several years, states such as Idaho, Utah, Washington, and Oregon have competed for the distinction as the state with the highest job growth in the country.  As people learn about the strong job growth and healthy economic environments in the West, they are increasingly moving to these states.  This is causing the net in-migration into these states to skyrocket.

Idaho is Among the Fastest Growing States in the Country

Robert Spendlove

From 2015 to 2016, Idaho was the third fastest growing state in the U.S.  Idaho’s growth rate of 1.8 percent was only surpassed by Utah and Nevada.  During this time, the Gem State grew by more than 30,000 people.  This is like adding an entire city the size of Rexburg over the past year.
Much of this growth is due to Idaho’s ability to attract many people into the state.  Idaho’s in-migration more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, with around 9,000 people moving into the state in 2015 and more than 18,000 people moving into the state in 2016.  Idaho’s strong and vibrant economy is creating new jobs and shrinking the unemployment rate.  As the demand for more workers increases, increasing numbers of people are moving here to take advantage of these economic opportunities.

Growth Brings Challenges

While population growth brings opportunity and benefits to communities, it also presents challenges.  Population growth, especially extreme growth, can limit access to much needed resources, such as land, water, infrastructure, and public services.  Communities often struggle to keep up with population growth and to plan accordingly.  It can also be very expensive to try to plan for and accommodate high growth.

Preparing for Growth

Idaho benefits from a strong economy experiencing robust growth.  This economic growth is fueling strong growth in the state’s population.  It is essential for our communities to anticipate and prepare for population growth.  Especially for cities and states experiencing high growth, the more they can do to plan for future growth the more it will help when the growth occurs.
Additional economic insights, including state and national economic trends highlighting indicators such as employment, demographics, housing, and more can be found online at
Robert Spendlove is Economic and Public Policy Officer for Zions Bank. To contact Robert, email

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