Census: Idaho’s Poverty Concentration Has Tripled Since 2000

Jul 1, 2014

More than 15 percent of Idahoans live in poverty according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s a little higher than the nation as a whole. Now, a new census report shows that Idaho’s poor are becoming increasingly concentrated.

People who study poverty say when the poor live in concentrated areas, their lives are harder. It’s harder to find a job in a high poverty area, crime rates are often high, and housing conditions are often sub-standard. Boise State University sociologist Sergio Romero says when all you see is poverty it’s hard to imagine yourself living differently.

Even though Idaho's poverty concentration saw one of the biggest percent increases between 2000 and 2010, 30 states and the District of Columbia had higher overall concentrations than Idaho in 2010.
Credit U.S. Census Bureau

“It can lead to a lot of despair,” Romero says. “And that may not necessarily enable you to think creatively and to seek out other opportunities. Logically that’s what needs to happen but when you’re in that environment you may feel as though you’re locked in.”

Between 2000 and 2010 Idaho’s overall poverty rate did go up by about three percentage points. During that same time, Idahoans living in high-poverty areas went from 6.2 percent to 18.6 percent. That’s for all Idahoans rich, poor and in-between.  

If we look just at poor Idahoans, 36.4 percent lived in high-poverty areas in 2010, compared to 15.6 percent in 2000. Romero says that increase has a lot to do with the state’s shifting population. When Idaho was a primarily rural state, poverty was more spread out. But Idaho’s poor are largely moving to urban areas looking for work.

“People are going to go to where housing is least expensive, where they can pool their resources as well,” Romero says. “So one of the things that I’ve noticed is that even in small dwellings of lets says two bedrooms, you have five people and upwards.”

Among Idaho’s neighbors, Nevada and Oregon saw bigger poverty-concentration increases, and Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Montana have higher overall concentrations of poverty.

Credit U.S. Census Bureau

Find reporter Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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