Idaho’s growing Hispanic population a factor in education, economy

Betsy Z. Russell works as staff writer for The Spokesman-Review. In that position, Russell covers Idaho news from our bureau in BoiseDetails from Spokesman Review Betsy Russell’s blog An Eye on Boise.

Hispanics accounted for 42 percent of the enrollment growth in Idaho’s public schools in the last five years, according to a new report from the University of Idaho’s McClure Center for Public Policy Research.

In fact, 10 Idaho school districts – and eight Idaho counties, including Boundary County – would have lost population from 2010 to 2014 if not for the growth in their Hispanic populations. The center’s three-part study, which examined the Idaho Hispanic population’s demographics, education, and role in the labor force and economy, found that 70 percent of Idaho’s Hispanics were born in the United States and 79 percent are U.S. citizens.

“Our findings offer reasons for optimism as well as concern,” said Priscilla Salant, director of the McClure Center. She noted that while the state’s Hispanic population is a significant contributor to Idaho’s population growth and economic vitality, the group also has lower wage rates than other groups, higher unemployment and lower K-12 school achievement scores.

“If we want to see overall economic prosperity in Idaho grow, it matters so much that this population has the educational opportunities to become the best they can become, and we need to pay attention to that,” Salant said. “If we don’t, then the state as a whole will suffer.”

Overall, Idaho’s K-12 public school population currently is 18 percent Hispanic; Hispanics make up 12 percent of Idaho’s population as a whole. At four Idaho public colleges or universities, including the University of Idaho, Hispanic enrollment increased between 2009 and 2014 while non-Hispanic enrollment decreased.

The percentage of Hispanic-owned businesses in Idaho grew from 2.6 percent in 2007 to 4.3 percent in 2012, according to the study.

The Hispanic population already is growing faster than Idaho’s population as a whole, and two demographic features suggest even further growth: Idaho Hispanics are younger than other Idahoans, with a median age of 24 compared to the median for Idaho non-Hispanics of 38; and there’s a big difference in their births-to-deaths ratio. In 2013, there were 9.5 births for every death among Idaho Hispanics. Among non-Hispanic whites, there were just 1.6 births for every death.

The full reports are posted on the McClure Center’s website at, under “Publications and Studies, Idaho at a Glance.”