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Know the West

Hard times in rural Idaho

  Some portions of rural Idaho that suffered economically 15 years ago are doing well today. Formerly sleepy spots like the Teton Valley are faced with exploding populations, and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and Spokane, Wash., are growing together along a corridor of development. But not all of Idaho is booming. The state's third Profile of Rural Idaho, a 33-page report with color maps, charts and multiple demographic breakdowns, reflects a "two-Idaho" phenomenon, says Richard Gardner, executive director of the Idaho Rural Partnership, which helped produce the study. For each trophy home, "there are probably half a dozen mobile homes parked somewhere else less visible. When you read about increasing income disparity in the U.S., rural Idaho is a good example of that." Fifteen counties lost population between 1997 and 1998, hit by downturns in agriculture, timber and mining. The report says the loss of jobs in higher-wage industries, such as wood products and mining, is not eased by the increase in lower-wage jobs in tourism or other service jobs. "There's a sense of grieving in a lot of rural areas; there's a sense of loss," Gardner says.

To obtain a copy of the report, contact the Idaho Department of Commerce, 700 W. State St., P.O. Box 83720, Boise, ID 83720-0093 (208/334-2470), or try their Web site, http://www.idoc.state.id.us.

* Karen Mockler