For years I’ve worked with the ERS county typology codes – but most were more clear cut and more readily understood. Usually there was a single driver for a county’s economy. It isn’t so here and now. The USDA Economic Research Service has classified Lincoln County with four county typology codes – Government, Recreation, Low Employment and Retirement. They deal with our economic drivers. The updated data is at USDA.gov .
The definitions were once fairly similar – but have changed over time. Retirement Destination counties are defined by retiree in-migration. Government Dependent counties are defined as counties where 14% or more of the annual income is derived from federal/state salaries (it can get more specific, but this simplified definition is probably adequate). Recreation Dependent Counties are determined by a mix of things – jobs, earnings in entertainment, recreation, accommodations, eating/drinking places, real estate, and homes dedicated to seasonal/occasional use. Low employment is pretty much what it sounds like – another way of looking at it is high unemployment. Let’s look at the implications.
I’m familiar with Government Dependent Counties – employees at Land Grant Universities are state government employees, and the University is usually the largest employer. In Lincoln County most of the land belongs to the Federal or State government, so we have a large group of Forest Service, Corps of Engineers and State Forest employees. Then, we’re looking at the border with Canada: That means customs agents, border patrol, and immigration folks.
It’s worth remembering the high number of the Reservation counties that are also listed as government dependent and low employment. In Lincoln County, we don’t have the benefit of tribal identity.
One of the implications of being a government dependent, retirement destination, recreation dependent low employment county is what happens to the lower income portion of our population? Where do they live?
I’ve held federal jobs – the recruitment area is nationwide. There are places where you might get the job, but can’t find a place to live. That situation is exacerbated by being a retirement destination county. Retirees need homes – and are usually better able to afford them than the lower income portion of our population. Go back and look at the jobs associated with a recreation dependent county – that’s right, a bunch of the “entertainment/eating and drinking places” aren’t renowned for high salaries. Some of our jobs are seasonal – that translates to periods of unemployment.
A half-century ago, faced with massive in-migration for construction of Libby Dam and its associated railroad and highway relocation, Lincoln County wound up with a great amount of housing development. Here in Trego, there were probably in excess of 175 trailer spaces. Most are gone. I could conjecture about the reasons, but they aren’t important – low cost housing is increasingly moving off-grid.
This excerpt of the 2021 General Schedule shows where a part of the competition is in the housing market:
As for a retirement destination, our locally grown retirees pretty much retire in place. The in-migration of retirees usually brings in people who are used to higher housing costs, and that also affects the local rental market. Usually the recreation dependency accompanies the retirement destination – here the effect is amplified by the effect of government dependency. I think that the “low employment” typology will take care of itself.
Providing the answer was never part of my job description – but clarifying the question has been. Our economic drivers – retirees, government employment, and recreation employment put the county in significant strain on housing. In our system, providing the answers and solutions is a task for our local government.