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Idaho County sees increase in foreign-born residents

Like most of the United States, Idaho County saw an increase in the number of foreign-born residents over the last decade.

But the increase was slight, and the overall percentage of the county’s residents who were born outside the United States remained the same, according to U.S. Census data.

The findings could be important locally because a new study indicates that rural counties with a higher percentage of immigrants are doing better economically.

From 2000 to 2012, the number of Idaho County residents who were born in a foreign country grew by seven to an estimated 188 people, according to census data. During the same period, the percentage of county residents who were foreign born remained steady at 1.2 percent.

The Daily Yonder, an online publication that covers rural news, looked at the nation’s 1,966 nonmetropolitan counties, including Idaho County. Nonmetropolitan, or rural, counties have no cities of 50,000 or more residents and don’t have strong economic ties to a county that does.

The study found that counties with a higher percentage of their population born in foreign countries generally had a higher per capita market income and more jobs. These same counties also tended to have lower rates of unemployment and poverty than counties with a smaller proportion of immigrants.

What the study found

In Idaho County, the economic results declined throughout the period of the study.

•Total employment fell by 1.0 percent to an estimated 7,873 full and part-time jobs.

•Unemployment grew by 1.3 percentage points to 9.6 percent.

•And the percentage of people living below the federal poverty line grew from 14.4 in 2000 to an estimated 20.5 in 2012.

The county’s overall 2012 population estimate was 16,200, an increase of 4.5 percent.

The connection between more immigrants and better economic performance did not surprise James H. Johnson Jr., a University of North Carolina business professor who has researched the economic impact of immigration.

“What people don’t understand is that immigration is a selective process,” he said. Immigrants tend to be younger and healthier than the general population, he said. “They are risk takers by definition. For them, the glass is always half full.”

But the demographic change can be challenging for smaller communities, said Daniel T. Lichter at the Cornell University Population Center.

“Whether communities take advantage of the potential of immigrant communities to improve the local economy depends on local leadership and how well they respond to immigrant populations,” he said.

The study is based on the 2000 U.S. Census and five-year American Community Survey data from 2012, the last year available when the study was conducted. The survey data is an estimate and has a margin of error that varies with county size.

More details on the study are available at

Tim Marema is editor of the news site Roberto Gallardo, Ph.D., is a Daily Yonder researcher and serves on the faculty of the Center for Technology Outreach at the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

The Daily Yonder is published by the Center for Rural Strategies, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Whitesburg, Ky.


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