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Dairy Industry’s Hispanic Workforce Benefits Communities in South Central Idaho

March 16, 2017

Idaho’s dairy industry has attracted a largely Hispanic labor force that includes many foreign-born workers. Communities in South Central Idaho have benefited from these workers, as well as from strong regional leadership that helped attract dairy processing industries. These are some of the findings from a recent study conducted by the University of Idaho’s McClure Center for Public Policy Research.

For economic, demographic and immigration policy reasons, the net inflow of foreign-born workers into South Central Idaho has largely stopped since the recession. The reduced immigration, combined with changing values of second-generation immigrants and a globally competitive regional economy, has created a labor shortage at current wage rates, the research team found.

The study was commissioned by the Idaho Dairymen’s Association and updates a 2009 analysis of how the dairy industry’s workforce impacts communities in Idaho.

“Immigration has profound economic and social impacts on communities,” said Priscilla Salant, senior researcher at the McClure Center. “In the case of South Central Idaho, these changes have been largely positive and going on for a generation.”

Despite the economic benefits, immigration poses some challenges for communities, the study found. This is especially true in schools that lack sufficient resources to help English language learners and engage parents from diverse cultural backgrounds. The study also found that the region’s most rural communities are challenged to diversify their economies and build infrastructure to attract new businesses.

“With this case study of foreign born workers in Idaho, the McClure Center continues fulfilling its mission of informing sound public policy through the highest quality, nonpartisan research,” said UI President Chuck Staben.

The study found that increasing automation in response to labor shortages and narrow profit margins, along with changing immigration policies and continued integration of immigrants and their children, will influence community well-being in the future. The dairy industry will continue to be a driving force in the region going forward.

The full McClure Center study is available at

Media Contacts

Jodi Walker
Director, University Communications

Priscilla Salant

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The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 12,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky and Western Athletic conferences. Learn more at