New census numbers released this week reinforce something we’ve known for a while: Idaho continues to lose population in rural communities. In 1990, 59 percent of Idahoans lived in cities. Last year, that number was 69 percent.
“A third of the city population gain in 2012 came in Ada County, where the suburban community of Star posted a 3.4 percent increase. Coupled with population growth rates of 3.3 percent in Meridian and 2.9 percent in Eagle, those three cities accounted for nearly 3,400 of a 10,500-population increase posted by Idaho’s cities.
Dubois in eastern Idaho recorded the largest population loss at 8.8 percent, dropping from 657 to 599. Salmon was the largest city to record a significant loss, falling 2.7 percent from 3,128 to 3,044.” – Idaho Dept. of Labor
Dubois is the county seat of Clark County. The town used to employ 140 people at a potato processing plant. The Idahoan Foods plant closed in 2009, but some workers stuck around hoping for other work. According to the county clerk’s office, the drop in population in 2012 reflects those workers deciding to move away for better work prospects.
Kerri Ellis works on economic development in Dubois. She says that since the plant closed, at least five other businesses have shuttered. A migrant worker housing project has lost residents, and so the owners are preparing to sell. Ellis says some people tried looking for work in nearby Idaho Falls or Rexburg, but the commute from Dubois became too costly.
Ellis says the town has been trying to attract new businesses. But with a shrinking young educated workforce, the town is a hard sell for higher paying jobs. Ellis says students who graduate high school usually move away for college – and then don’t return.