During the past decade, southern Idaho's Hispanic population grew nearly 90 percent, parallel to the growth of the state's dairy industry, which is concentrated in three south central counties: Gooding, Jerome and Twin Falls.
The growth of the Hispanic population can be attributed to the dairy industry's demand for labor. The new residents helped Jerome and Gooding Counties buck the national trend of outmigration and population loss experienced by three quarters of farming dependant counties across the U.S. since 2000.
University of Idaho researchers Priscilla Salant, J.D. Wulfhorst and Stephanie Kane surveyed public perceptions about the dairy industry, analyzed data and interviewed more than 60 local elected officials, service providers, business people and others.
The researchers wanted to better understand the community-level impacts resulting from the changing dairy industry and its workforce.
The Idaho Dairymen's Association provided $60,288 to fund the effort, which is one of the most extensive community-level impact studies of its kind.
The study found that in general the industry's impacts have been positive. In Jerome, for example, businesses responded quickly to new customers. Population growth meant more students in schools, countering a trend in many rural communities of population loss and declining school enrollment. Overall, we found that communities are better off economically because of the dairy industry, but they struggle to adjust to the challenges of a changing and growing population.
- Immigration policy changes that give employers and workers more predictability and security to allow workers to integrate more fully into the communities.
- Encourage workers to file for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit to boost income among the working poor.
- Establish a full-time, Spanish-speaking community development professional to link industry and communities.
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