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Nick Groff reports: Theories range as to why, but numbers show 20-somethings are leaving the Gem State.

State driver’s license data shows the trend started in 2011, and while the number is relatively small in a population of almost 1.6 million, it is the first time the state has seen a decrease in that age group.

Michael Ferguson, director of the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, said since the onset of the economic recession, Idaho’s economy has underperformed compared to the rest of the country. The lack of performance could contribute to the leave, he said.

“What it really comes down to, I think, is two things: Better opportunities elsewhere, and that age group tends to be more footloose,” Ferguson said.

On the other side of the coin, the highest in-migration group is those 60 years and older, making for an older average age in Idaho.

Bob Fick, the communications manager at the Idaho Department of Labor, said young people are often the ones that have the initiative, inventiveness and creativity a state should want working in the economy as their lives progress.

But because the driver’s license data doesn’t track levels of education or other demographics, it’s hard to determine exactly why Millennials are leaving. Still though, Fick said the departure decreases the work force.

Michael Ferguson, director of the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, said a possible reason could be higher minimum wage in neighboring states like Washington and Oregon, at $9.19 and $8.95 respectively. While the cost of living is lower in Idaho than in Washington and Oregon, according to data released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis June 12, the minimum wage gap does not equal the cost of living difference.

“Basically Washington’s minimum wage is 27 percent higher than Idaho’s,” Ferguson said. “In order for it to be a wash, your living expenses would have to be 27 percent higher in Washington for it to not make a difference — that’s a pretty substantial increase.”

Ferguson said young people especially are able to move where they can better their lives, even in the short term.

“Humans are self-interested beings,” he said. “Evidence suggests that people are footloose and vote with their feet,” and if an opportunity arises, young people are willing and able to travel.



Funding to higher education hasn’t been cut as much as the burden to pay for it has been shifted from the tax payer to student, Ferguson said. That shift makes it more difficult for students to pay for education. If young people can’t pay for college, the work force will be less-educated.

A theory thought to play a factor in the out-migration of 20-somethings is the Idaho job market.

Ferguson said a slight uptick in companies like call centers moving to Idaho changes the type of job available for a Millennial. Those jobs, he said, likely pay less, especially in Idaho — the urge to cross state lines becomes more pressing.

The job market shift is at least an indirect result of a less-educated work force.

“Fewer students able to get through college and get a post-secondary degree,” Ferguson said, “ … means you’ve got a less qualified work force and employers look at those things.”

Marilyn Whitney, spokeswoman for the Idaho State Board of Education, said the board set a goal to get 60 percent of Idaho’s population to obtain some sort of post-secondary degree or certificate. Thirty-five percent of Idahoans between 25 and 34 hold an associate’s degree or higher, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The national average is 40.1 percent.

“That equals employment and earning power,” which might keep people in the state, Whitney said. “We want students more educated wherever they live, but we want to keep the best and brightest in this state.”

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, she said, but an educated work force drives an economy and attracts knowledge-based jobs.

“The education side has a broader bearing in terms of the kinds of businesses that are willing to locate here,” Ferguson said. “Then that in turn determines the jobs that are available, and that then can lead to migration affects we’re seeing.”



More than 40 years ago the University of Washington School of Medicine WAMI (Washington, Alaska, Montana, Idaho) Program was created.

The main goals were to create a publicly funded medical school and to increase the number of primary care physicians in the region and rural areas.

The program, which became WWAMI in 1996 with the addition of Wyoming, admits 20 students from Idaho each year. Idaho students complete one year of medical school curriculum at the University of Idaho, transfer to UW in Seattle their second year and then complete two years of clinical rotations, oftentimes in their home state. The state pays the cost of out-of-state fees so Idaho students can attend public medical school at the in-state price.

“A lot of times students end up remaining where they are trained,” Mary Barinaga, the Assistant Dean for Regional Affairs with the University of Washington School of Medicine, said. “If you train students in the community setting, where you hope they will someday return to practice, train them in the communities in Idaho, then they’ll have a higher chance of returning.”

The Idaho Legislature increased funding to admit 25 students to the program for next year.

Barinaga said the return rate of students to Idaho is 50 percent — 9 percent higher than the national average — and has a 73 percent return on investment because a number of surrounding states’ graduates practice in Idaho.

Barinaga said there are four residency programs in Idaho, with funding for another residency opening in Coeur d’Alene. She said the reason the return rate isn’t higher is because Idaho does not have residencies in general surgery, OB/GYN or pediatrics, among other specialties. Federal funding for the programs have been slashed throughout the years, leaving Idaho without.



The federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program is intended to encourage individuals to enter and continue with the teacher profession.

If an educator teaches full-time for five complete and consecutive years, an eligible teacher’s student loans of up to $17,500 can be forgiven. In order to qualify for the program, the teacher must work in a Title I-funded or low-income school.

Of the 755 public schools in Idaho, 591 were classified as low-income in 2012-13.

For more information about the program and qualifications, visit

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