Over the last quarter century the Latino population in Idaho has dramatically increased, as it has nationally. The 2000 Idaho census showed 101,690 people of
Workers at the Casa Valdez Tortilla Factory, 1979. Idaho Statesman photo, Boise State University Library, Special Collections.
Latino background living in the state, revealing a striking population growth of ethnic groups from Latin America. Most of that growth is attributed to migration. Accurate numbers, however, are difficult to determine. About 80 percent of Idaho’s Hispanics (the official government term) are Mexicans or of Mexican heritage. In 1980, Idaho’s total population of 943,985 contained about 36,560 (or 3.9 percent) Latinos. Over the next decade the Latino population jumped to almost
53,000 (or 5.3 percent) of a total of 1,004,000. Though significant, Latinos still represented a small percentage of the total population. Over the next 10 years their numbers almost doubled again, increasing from about 53,000 to 101,690, a growth of 92 percent. In 2000 Idaho’s population had swelled to 1,293,953, of which 100,000 were Latinos, equaling 7.9 percent of the total population. Estimates for 2003 put the state’s overall population at 1,367,034, with Latinos jumping to 119,066, or about 8.7 percent.
Idaho’s recent demographic increase is impressive, but growth of the Latino community is even more so, and it continues to soar. The most recent census estimates (2006) of Idaho’s Latino population show 139,000 of a total 1,466,465, or an increase of 20,000 in only three years. If these estimates prove accurate, Latinos currently represent about 9.5 percent of the state’s population, the largest minority group by far. These numbers may contain undocumented individuals, but it is difficult to say how many. The most reliable estimates range from 25,000 to 50,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Labor’s Current Population Survey.1 These growth rates
cast Idaho as a state whose ethnic complexion is undergoing a radical change, forcing the government, economy, and society to adapt.