Bringing the Economy Home

Driver’s License Data Offers Clues About Where Idahoans Are Moving

Driver’s license data show more people moved to Idaho than left the state in 2012. But that data finds at least 29,253 Idahoans did move to another state last year.

The Idaho Department of Transportation keeps track of driver’s licenses that are given up in one state to get a license in a different state. The system isn’t perfect. It doesn’t include people who aren’t old enough to drive, or may not have a driver’s license. Even though state laws require a license change within a certain time period, not everyone follows that rule. But tracking driver’s license movement is one way to understand where Idahoans are moving.

More than 7,000 Idahoans moved west to Washington state in 2012, more than 4,500 Idahoans went to Utah.

Data Source: Idaho Department of Transportation | Map: Emilie Ritter Saunders | Download the Data

The Idaho Department of Labor has also kept tabs on interstate movement. For that agency, it’s key to understand what kinds of people are leaving; are they educated, unemployed, retired, young, married, etc.

The March newsletter from the Labor Department has an article dedicated to this idea. The Department used U.S. Census Bureau migration data, which is slightly more outdated than the annual driver’s license information, but is likely a more accurate measure.

“An earlier analysis of the state’s stagnant labor force in 2012 as the economy began recovering concluded that Idaho baby boomers are holding onto their jobs longer and long-term unemployment has forced thousands of Idahoans to leave the labor force. The percentage of 21-to 24-year-olds participating in the labor force is declining even as that population group increases overall, and the number of 25-to 29-year-olds, a prime wage earning group, is declining both as a percentage of the overall population and in labor force participation.

In fact, nearly all age groups under 55 experienced a decline in population throughout the recession.” – Idaho Dept. of Labor

For example, the Labor Department says Idahoans are drawn to nearby eastern Washington because jobs are typically higher-paying and housing costs less. Idahoans who go to Utah and Nevada are attracted to the mining, manufacturing and financial sectors.

“Idaho sectors that saw the biggest share of the exodus were restaurants and food services, construction, colleges and universities, elementary and secondary schools and hospitals.

Whatever the reason for these workers leaving Idaho–better economic opportunities or personal preference–the exodus of people with technical skills and knowledge has an economic cost to Idaho. These workers take with them the value of their training and experience. According to Census Bureau data, Idaho was home to approximately 10,500 people who hold doctoral degrees in 2008. Of those, roughly, 700, or 6.6 percent, migrated out of Idaho between 2009 and 2011.

They were followed by 2,400 with master’s degrees, 4.5 percent of all Idahoans with master’s degrees; 10,300 or 5.5 percent of Idahoans with bachelor’s degrees and professional degrees; and 3,600 or 4 percent of those with associate degrees.

Eighty-seven percent of the potential workers migrating out of Idaho between 2008 and 2011 were under age 55 with the biggest cohort between 25 and 29–nearly 7,800 or 17 percent of the outmigrants who are 16 and older. Many relocated to the tri-cities in Washington and the oil fields of Wyoming.” — Idaho Dept. of Labor

Here’s a list of the top 11 states where Idahoans surrendered their driver’s licenses. Instead of the usual top 10, we included the 11th since it’s North Dakota, a state that is flush with high-paying oil field jobs.

Out Of Idaho
To Idaho
Net Gain
North Dakota 532228-304

Source: Idaho Department of Transportation


  • I had a very business successful Entreasure tell me one time “to not mess around with his labor force, because they made him lot’s of money”.

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