Idaho is comprised of 44 counties – seven urban and 37 rural – as classified by the Idaho Department of Labor. Idaho fits snugly between economic urban powerhouse states Washington and Oregon and more rural neighbors Montana and Wyoming. The geographic placement of Idaho creates a unique situation.
The broad county categories of urban and rural are based mostly on population density. Though a simple classification system, it may have some significant restrictions. As time passes more people are leaving rural areas out of economic necessity such as seeking better job opportunities, education access and health care amenities. Migration out-flow data shows that rural counties like Madison and Clark have the highest rates of out-migration – up to 17 percent annually. Meanwhile, only Canyon and Ada counties have experienced an annual out-migration of only 3 to 6 percent. Though these changes mimic national trends, rural communities throughout Idaho are still active and pushing to thrive. Besides population density, there are many characteristics that separate a rural area from an urban one.
This is the first of a three-part series about Idaho’s rural economy. This part examines elements impacting Idaho’s rural economy today, including population, educational attainment, industries, occupations and wages.
Part two evaluates which dynamics influence rural Idaho’s dwindling labor force.
Part three projects how rural Idaho’s population by age group and labor force participation will look in 10 years based on the previous 10-year trends.
Labor force is a key ingredient for economic success, and labor force statistics help measure how successfully the economy is performing. The demographics of Idaho’s labor force differ in fundamental ways between its seven urban counties — Ada, Bannock, Bonneville, Canyon, Kootenai, Nez Perce and Twin Falls – and 37 rural counties. These differences spell out the challenge of economic growth and development in rural areas
The labor force in Idaho’s rural counties reflect the intensity of their aging population. The change of baby boomers from their 40s and 50s in 1995 to their 50s and 60s has resulted in a decrease in the workforce 35 to 44 years of age and a big increase in the number of people 55 and over, as the chart of workers on payrolls shows in Fig. 1. In addition, labor force participation rates for people 55 and older have risen over the past 30 years as more have enjoyed longer lifespans and better health.
In the U.S., the average retirement age rose from age 62 in 1995 to 65 in 2015.