Gem State city populations are thriving, though small towns in rural areas – including in Idaho County – are not sharing in the growth.
According to population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau, the population living in Idaho’s 200 incorporated cities grew 2.3 percent from 2018-2019, faster than the state’s 2.1 percent growth. At best, Idaho County communities reached on average slightly more than 1 percent growth during this same time, with two either stagnant or declining.
Population Changes 2018-19
Most Idaho County communities experienced just more than 1 percent population growth from 2018 to 2019.
Each increasing 1.1 percent were Cottonwood (up 10 for 940 total population), Kooskia (up 7, 664 total) and White Bird (up one, 95 total). Each increasing 1.3 percent were Grangeville (up 41, 3,237 total) and Stites (up three, 232 total). Riggins increased 1.5 percent (up five, 416 total).
On the low end, Ferdinand saw an increase of one for a total 162 population in 2019.
“Most of Idaho County is growing at a fairly good clip, relative to other counties in the region,” said Kathryn Tacke, regional economist, Idaho Department of Labor.
“There are still things that are dragging the county population growth back a bit,” she continued. “One is the population in Idaho County is very much older than in a typical U.S. county, and as a consequence, there are fewer babies being born, and babies are one way to add to the base.” Considering both these factors, the natural increase – the number of births exceeding those of deaths – is not significant.
Kamiah was the only area city to lose population; down by 12 (1 percent) for a total 1,244.
“Some rural communities are struggling from a long legacy of forest product jobs declining,” Tacke said. “That is one reason for the Kamiah decline.”
Population Changes 2010-2019
Five county communities saw population increases of 3 percent or higher from 2010 to 2019.
“One of the things to remember is we started out with this period hard on communities still suffering from the Great Recession,” Tacke said, “so, we had some population declines in some communities and very slow growth, in general.”
The biggest increase was in Kooskia, which grew by 9.4 percent (up 57) during this time. Stites gained 11 more people (up 5 percent).
Both experiencing a 4.4 percent increase were Cottonwood (up 40) and White Bird (up four). Grangeville increased by 3.1 percent (up 96), and Ferdinand by 1.9 percent (up by three).
Two communities saw decreases during this period: Kamiah dropped 3.9 percent (down 51) and Riggins went down by three (a 0.7 percent decrease).
“A lot of rural communities and cities in Idaho experienced population declines over the last 10 years, so it is a problem common to many rural parts of the state,” Tacke said. “We’re not having enough of an increase in employment opportunities to keep young people, and young people are moving to Boise and other faster growing communities, in and out of the state.”
Housing Unit Growth 2010-2019
Idaho County was one of three – along with Shoshone and Custer – where housing units grew less than 2 percent between 2010 and 2019. Idaho County also fell several percent points behind neighboring counties, where increases varied from 2.6 to 7.8 percent.
In 2019, Idaho County had 8,783 housing units, up by 39 (0.4 percent) from 2010.
“I was really shocked how few houses Idaho County gained over time,” Tacke said, noting it was the lowest growth in housing in the state.
Some of this lack of growth can be attributed to the county’s disproportionate number of older homes, than in other parts of the state, which due to age are torn down, or some are repurposed into commercial uses. The county’s older population is a factor, tending to downsize on housing rather than increase; and with members of that group living alone, they need more houses per person than do a family of four, for example. The county has also seen an increase in the number of people building second homes.
“Those count as housing units,” Tacke said, “but they are not available to people who are working in the community and need a place to live.”
Neighboring counties reported housing unit growth as follows: Adams, 2.6 percent (2,705 total in 2019); Clearwater, 4.8 percent (4,668 total); Lewis, 5.0 percent (1,991 total); and Valley, 7.8 percent (12,710 total).
Population to Housing Growth Ratio Gap
Housing units in Idaho County increased by 0.4 percent from 2010 to 2019, but during this same time, the population increased by 2.5 percent (up 400) for a total 16,667. Adams and Valley counties also experienced a gap of more population in relation to housing growth: Adams: 8 percent population increase, compared with a 2.5 percent increase in units; and Valley: 15.5 percent population increase versus 7.7 percent increase in housing.
Housing unit growth exceeding population growth was experienced in Clearwater (0.1 percent population decline, 4.8 percent unit increase) and Lewis (0.4 percent population increase, 5.9 percent increase in units) counties.
From 2010 to 2019, Idaho added 83,309 housing units, resulting in 12.5 percent growth. This falls slightly behind state population growth, 14 percent, for that same period.
“Statewide, housing availability has not kept up with housing growth over the last 10 years,” Tacke said, a problem that has been more severe within the Idaho County region. “And it is a real challenge how to deal with this issue, because the real solution is for people to feel confident there are a good number of buyers for their product and build houses. But apparently, there isn’t confidence, and that may be because Idaho County hasn’t seen a lot of employment growth.”
Many cities in Idaho and Lewis counties, as well as both the Ida-Lew Economic Development Council and Clearwater Economic Development Association, are concerned on these issues, she said, and are working on special projects this year and the next on coming up with solutions.
“The challenges are massive,” Tacke said.