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Rural Idahoans staying put

Recession limits residents’ migration

BOISE – Rural Idaho residents have been staying put during the current recession, unlike during the previous recession, when they moved in large numbers to the state’s urban areas.

“The length and depth of the current recession … has severely impeded the ability, and the rationale, for people to move,” Idaho’s Department of Labor reported Wednesday.

The latest U.S. Census figures for Idaho cities show that from mid-2007 to mid-2008, 69 of Idaho’s 200 cities saw either no population growth or modest losses. In the 45 cities that lost population, the numbers mostly were single-digit – the largest loss was in Bonners Ferry, which lost 37 people.

“They can’t sell their houses, and there’s no reason to move when there are no jobs,” said Bob Fick, a Labor Department spokesman. “The biggest job losses have been in the city.”

In contrast, the 2001 recession drove significant population movement from Idaho’s rural areas. More than 100 of the state’s smallest cities either didn’t grow or lost population in 2001, 2002 and 2003.

State labor analysts said the 2001 recession brought less job loss to Idaho. In the Boise metropolitan area, the state’s largest job market, 24,000 jobs have been lost in the past two years. Another 17,500 have been lost statewide.

Until the current downturn, Idaho had been seeing a “steady migration to the larger urban areas of Idaho from the rural areas,” Fick said, a trend that was even more pronounced when the state’s economy was booming.

Idaho’s population of 1.52 million in 2008 was up 1.8 percent from 2007. The state’s largest city, by far, is still Boise, with a population of 205,300, up 1.3 percent.

Coeur d’Alene is sixth-largest, with 43,360 residents, up 2.7 percent, while Post Falls is the 11th largest, at 26,460; its population grew by 4.2 percent. Sandpoint is 23rd, having grown by 1.6 percent since 2007 to reach a population of 8,337.

Idaho’s second-largest city is Nampa, at 80,362, and third is Meridian, 66,916.

Twenty small North Idaho cities, including Clark Fork, Plummer, Hayden Lake and Wallace, saw their populations hold steady, varying by fewer than 10 people.

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