TWIN FALLS — Hispanic residents are driving population growth in rural south-central Idaho, data recently released by the state’s Department of Labor shows.
Idaho is the fastest-growing state in the nation, and the Magic Valley is no exception to that growth. All eight counties in the south-central Idaho region — Blaine, Camas, Cassia, Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka and Twin Falls — experienced population increases from 2016 to 2017, some more significant than others.
In some of those counties, that growth is entirely due to an increase in the number of Hispanic residents.
The population of Jerome County, for instance, grew 1.6 percent overall — or 370 people — between 2016 and 2017. The county’s Hispanic population, which accounts for nearly 35 percent of the county’s residents, grew 4.6 percent, or 373 people.
In other words, without an increase in the county’s Hispanic population, Jerome County would have shrunk by three people between 2016 and 2017.
The same goes for Minidoka County, which gained 166 new Hispanic residents and 146 new residents overall — meaning, theoretically, that the county’s non-Hispanic population decreased by 20 people last year.
These numbers suggest that Hispanic residents are driving population growth in some of the region’s most vibrant counties, said Department of Labor regional economist Jan Roeser.
“If they didn’t have that Hispanic population, they would not be in the growth spurt that they are,” Roeser said of Minidoka County.
In some of the Magic Valley’s more rural counties, Hispanic population growth was less noticeable, mirroring overall population stagnation in those areas.
Still, a similar trend can be seen in some. Gooding County’s population went up 30 people overall between 2016 and 2017. Its Hispanic population, however, increased by 42 people.
Other counties saw a bump in both Hispanic and non-Hispanic residents: Blaine County, for example, grew by 1.3 percent, or 283 people, overall; the county’s Hispanic population similarly saw a 1.7 percent, or 79 person, increase. Camas County gained a total of 18 residents, six of whom were Hispanic.
In Cassia County, growth could be largely attributed to Hispanic residents, though the non-Hispanic population grew as well. The county saw an overall population increase of 202 people; 140 of those people were Hispanic.
Of all the south-central Idaho counties, Lincoln County saw the least significant increase in Hispanic residents. The county’s overall population grew from 5,267 in 2016 to 5,318 in 2017 — but the Hispanic population only increased by four people, or 0.3 percent.
That could be due to any number of factors, Roeser said, such as a lack of available jobs in the county, older residents retiring and moving elsewhere, or young adults wanting to live in a more urban area.
“Sometimes the cost of living really helps those rural areas and helps them retain individuals, but sometimes it doesn’t,” Roeser said.
Twin Falls, by contrast, saw a 4.6 percent increase in its Hispanic population last year, with the heaviest growth among what would appear to be young families: children and those 20 to 39.
Overall, the Hispanic population in south-central Idaho grew by about 3 percent, Roeser said: double the population growth for the region as a whole.