The National Bureau of Economic Research defines a recession as a period of time during which the national gross domestic product (adjusted for inflation) decreases for two consecutive quarters.
The latest economic recession, which lasted 18 months (from December 2007 to June 2009) was the longest recession since the 1930s.
About one-third of Idahoans live in rural counties (compared to 14% nationwide), yet rural counties comprise 32 of Idaho’s 44 counties.
In this article, “rural” refers to the 32 of Idaho’s 44 counties that the U.S. Office of Management and Budget classifies as nonmetropolitan. Rural counties have no urbanized area with at least 50,000 people; nor are they linked to such an area through commuting patterns.
The 12 counties considered urban make up Idaho’s metropolitan areas: Boise-Nampa-Caldwell (five counties), Idaho Falls (three counties), Pocatello (two counties), Coeur d’Alene (one county), and Lewiston (one county).
Urban counties are defined as have an urbanized area with at least 50,000 people, or are linked to such an area in a neighboring county through commuting patterns, according to the UI newsletter.
Since the recession ended, population growth in rural Idaho has stagnated, growing less than 1 percent, from 544,000 to 548,000, an increase of just 4,000 people.
Urban Idaho, on the other hand, has seen its population grow by 6%, with Ada, Canyon, and Kootenai counties leading the way at 8.5%, 7.5%, and 6.4%, respectively. In 2010 urban Idaho’s population was 1,023,000. In 2014 it was 1,086,000, an increase of more than 63,000 people.
Almost 40% of rural Idahoans live in counties that lost population between 2010 and 2014, compared with just 2% of urban Idahoans. Rural counties with the biggest losses include: Clark (-12%), Camas (-7%), and Custer (-5%).
Rural counties with the biggest gains include Twin Falls (5%), and Cassia and Latah (both 3%).
Idaho’s Hispanic population is altering the landscape as well. Between 2010-13, rural Idaho’s Hispanic population grew by 6%, compared to a 1% decline in the population of Idaho’s rural, non-Hispanic population.
Agriculture plays a significant role in rural counties where Hispanics make up a large share of the population. These counties include Clark (42% Hispanic), Jerome (34% Hispanic), Minidoka (33%), Power (31%), and Gooding (29%).
Both rural and urban Idaho counties have lost jobs during the recession, and remain at below pre-recession levels. Since job growth finally returned in 2010, rural areas have experienced a 2.6% increase, and urban jobs have increased 4.8%.
Rural Idaho has experienced an out-net migration since 2010 (more people leaving than coming in), while urban Idaho experienced net in-migration that contributed to overall population growth.
Idaho’s growth after the recession was due, in part, to positive natural change: more births than deaths. Both urban and rural Idaho experienced positive natural change rates of 3% between 2010 and 2014. In rural Idaho, this increase was enough to make up for losses due to out-migration.
Five rural counties still had more deaths than births, which reflects decades of young people moving away, and older people aging in place. These counties are: Clearwater, Shoshone, Lemhi, Washington, and Idaho.
Rural Idaho’s unemployment rates are inching down, but remain high. In 2010, a year after the average annual unemployment rate peaked in urban Idaho, rural Idaho’s unemployment rate peaked at 9.1%.
Rates since then have declined, but average annual unemployment rates in both rural and urban Idaho remain higher than pre-recession levels. Rural unemployment rates ranged from 3.3% in Madison County to 10% in both Adams and Shoshone counties.
Wages are higher in Idaho’s urban counties, but rural Idaho’s are beginning to catch up since the beginning of the recession. At the start of the recession, the average wage per job in rural Idaho was $6,939 less than in urban Idaho. By 2013, that gap had narrowed to $5,431. Unlike urban wages, rural Idaho’s wages increased during the recession, and have surpassed pre-recession levels.
The gap between urban and rural Idaho incomes has also decreased. Prior to the recession the per capita income in urban Idaho was more than $4,000 higher than in rural Idaho. This gap narrowed during and after the recession, to just $515. Urban Idaho’s income has stalled since the recession, while rural income has surpassed pre-recession levels.
Even so, poverty rates remain high, particularly in rural Idaho. After the recession, poverty rates in America in general were the highest they’d been since the mid-1980s. Poverty rates in both urban and rural Idaho peaked in 2011. Rates continue to be higher in rural Idaho than in urban Idaho, and both remain higher than pre-recession poverty rates.
In 2013, Madison County had the highest poverty rate of all Idaho counties (29%), followed by Shoshone (19%). Eight other rural counties each had a poverty rate of 18%: Boundary, Clark, Clearwater, Latah, Lemhi, Payette, Power, and Washington.