Bringing the Economy Home

Emilie Ritter Saunders

Multimedia Reporter

Emilie Ritter Saunders was StateImpact Idaho's multimedia reporter until the project merged with the Boise State Public Radio site in July 2013. She previously worked as the Capitol Bureau Chief for Montana Public Radio and was a Senior Fellow with NPR's Economic Training Project from 2009 until 2010. She graduated from the University of Montana School of Journalism in 2007.

How Rejecting Medicaid Expansion Could Hurt Health Outcomes In Idaho

Emilie Ritter Saunders / StateImpact

Idaho is one of 24 states on track to reject expanded Medicaid coverage for more low-income Idahoans. A recent article by the Los Angeles Times finds states without plans to expand Medicaid have higher rates of colon cancer and breast cancer deaths, and higher rates of gum disease.

The article says the health gap will continue to widen between the states with more Medicaid availability and those without.

Today, for example, about 94% of adults under 65 in Massachusetts have health coverage, the highest rate in the nation. The state guarantees coverage through Medicaid or commercial insurance under a plan developed in 2006 by then-Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, and Democratic state lawmakers. By contrast, only 68% of working-age Texans are insured, the lowest rate. Continue Reading

StateImpact Idaho Wins 12 Idaho Press Club, SPJ Awards

Emilie Ritter Saunders / StateImpact

StateImpact Idaho picked up 12 local and regional journalism awards over the weekend. At the risk of being too boastful, we wanted to share these accolades with you.

At the annual Idaho Press Club awards we took home six 1st place prizes, two 2nd place, and one 3rd place.

“Demand For Ammunition Is Up. Why Aren’t Prices?”

An economics textbook would say this shouldn’t happen. It would say that Bob Viden, who has run the shop for almost 50 years, should respond to the increase in demand by raising prices. But, Viden told me, “We don’t want to do that. We want to be fair.”

Apparently so do some of the best-known ammo sources across the country. At the sporting goods store Cabela’s and at Wal-Mart, shelves are empty but prices are mostly flat. During my conversations at Bob’s Little Sport Shop, the word “fair” came up about two-dozen times. Or, as one customer put it, “There’s no reason to make a profit off of our misfortune.”

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Idaho’s Labor Force Drops To Two-Year Low, Jobless Rate Unchanged

Molly Messick / StateImpact Idaho

Wells Fargo representative Josh Plummer talked to dozens of would-be call center workers at a recent job fair in Boise.

Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate stayed at 6.1 percent in April as the state’s labor force continued to shrink.

The Idaho Department of Labor reports 1,300 people left the workforce last month. That’s four straight months of labor force decline. Idaho’s workforce is now at its lowest level in two years.

The Department says more than one third of the 16,000 new hires in April were for newly created jobs.

Analysts say the continued labor force decline and the drop in total employment are further proof young workers are leaving the state to find jobs while retirees from other states are moving to Idaho. Continue Reading

Idaho Lawmakers Could Have More Money To Spend Than Expected

401K / Flickr Creative Commons

Thanks to higher-than-expected tax collections last month, Idaho lawmakers could have more money in the bank to allocate to things like education, road repair, and health care services.

That’s the hypothesis from the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy director Mike Ferguson who analyzed the monthly revenue report and state budget. Ferguson says lawmakers could have as much as $162 million more to spend during the 2014 legislative session.

As The Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey notes, that’s about 6 percent of the state’s annual budget. Continue Reading

Bottom Rung: Idaho Has More Minimum Wage Workers Than 18 States

We know Idaho has the largest percentage of minimum wage workers in the country; 7.7 percent of Idaho’s hourly workforce earns $7.25 or less.

The same data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics also show Idaho has more minimum-wage earners, in raw numbers, than 18 other states. Many of those states have fewer people living in them, but six of the states have larger populations.

Connecticut, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and West Virginia all have more people than Idaho, but fewer people making minimum wage or less.

Continue Reading

Bottom Rung: Longtime Idaho Economist Stresses Education And Healthcare To Boost Wages

Molly Messick / StateImpact Idaho

Mike Ferguson, Director of the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy.

Idaho has the largest percentage of minimum wage jobs in the country. That’s been the jumping off point for StateImpact Idaho’s series examining wages; we’re calling it Bottom Rung.

We know that an aging population has had an effect on the kinds of jobs available, that a shrinking construction sector has played a part, and that a decrease in education funding could also be partly to blame.

To talk more about the trend, we recently sat down with economist and director of the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy Mike Ferguson. We also planned to speak with Idaho Department of Commerce director Jeff Sayer, but Sayer canceled our conversation indefinitely.

Q: You’ve got a bit of a chicken and egg situation here. Data from Census and IRS looking at migration patterns show the younger educated workforce is leaving the state, we’ve got older retirees moving in. Which needs to come first the educated workforce in the state, or the businesses that are going to pay high wages? Continue Reading

Bottom Rung: The Politics Of Increasing Idaho’s Minimum Wage

U.S. Department of Labor / Flickr Creative Commons

Acting U.S. Labor Dept. Secretary Seth Harris.

As in many states, Idaho’s minimum wage hasn’t changed since 2009, when the hourly minimum was boosted by the federal government.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found 31,000 hourly Idaho workers earned the minimum wage, $7.25, or less in 2012. That’s a 63 percent increase from 2011.

The data doesn’t tell us who these workers are, or where they live. We don’t know, for example, if the majority of those 31,000 minimum wage earners are teenagers working a part-time job, or middle-aged parents trying to support a family.

But back in February, President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union Address that he wants to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour. Since then, acting Labor Department Secretary Seth Harris has been campaigning to boost support for the idea.

Harris says raising the minimum wage will directly help workers earning it, but will also benefit the entire economy.

“Those workers will have more money in their pockets,” says Harris. Continue Reading

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