Bringing the Economy Home

‘Til We Meet Again

Molly Messick / StateImpact Idaho

The high adventure of reporting in Owyhee County

Today is my last at StateImpact Idaho. After better than four years spent reporting in the West, next month I’ll make good on a longtime goal. I’ll take a couple of months away from reporting for intensive Spanish study in Central America, something that will benefit my work in the future.

There are many things I’ve valued about this job. I’m grateful to have met fascinating people with stories to tell in towns and communities all over this state, from Laclede to Council to American Falls. (I’ve reported four feature stories from that one little town of 4,500 since StateImpact Idaho launched in September 2011!) 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: Readers And Listeners Share Their Stories

Molly Messick / StateImpact Idaho

A job-seeker signed in at call center recruitment fair held by the Idaho Department of Labor last week.

StateImpact Idaho recently took a run at a big issue: the state’s low wages and its comparatively high fraction of workers who earn the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The full series, called “Bottom Rung,” is available here.

Many readers and listeners have weighed in, in some cases sending their own stories. For example, Monday’s feature focused in part on a McDonald’s franchise that’s just across the Idaho border, in Washington, where the minimum wage is considerably higher than Idaho’s, at $9.19 per hour.  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.

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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

Bottom Rung: Why One Idaho Border Business Chose Washington

Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network

Tim Skubitz stands in front of his McDonalds in Newport, Washington. It's right across the street from Oldtown, Idaho.

The border between Washington and Idaho is like a petri dish for what the minimum wage does to the economy. That’s where two extremes meet. Idaho has the federal minimum wage: $7.25 an hour. Meanwhile, Washington’s is nearly $2 more.

At $9.19, Washington has the highest minimum wage in the nation. You might expect that wage gap to send Washington border businesses fleeing over to Idaho. But that’s not what’s happening.

Idahoans like Ron Mendive pride themselves on having a business-friendly state. The Republican state representative from Coeur d’Alene shares the view of many about the minimum wage. Continue Reading

Bottom Rung: Why Building A Strong Idaho Economy Takes Public Investment

Molly Messick / StateImpact Idaho

Bob Lokken, CEO of WhiteCloud Analytics, in his downtown Boise office

Bob Lokken, CEO of Boise-based WhiteCloud Analytics, is three years into building his new company. It designs software for health care professionals with the aim of allowing doctors and others to interrogate vast amounts of health care data. Lokken founded it after his previous company, ProClarity Corporation, was bought by Microsoft.

Recently, he showed me around the downtown office where software developers work intently behind large computer screens. I wasn’t there to talk about better health outcomes through guided data analysis; I was there to talk about Idaho’s workforce.

This week, StateImpact Idaho is reporting on low-wage work through its series “Bottom Rung.” Retired University of Idaho economist Stephen Cooke offers a blunt assessment of Idaho’s shifting employment picture. He believes the state is on a path toward a growing number of low-skilled, low-wage jobs.  Continue Reading

Bottom Rung: Construction Jobs Gained And Lost, And Their Place In Idaho’s Economy

This week, StateImpact‘s “Bottom Rung” series is looking at low-wage work in Idaho. We’re asking why the state has an outsized share of minimum wage jobs.

Construction employment was the starting point for the broadcast story that aired this morning. The construction industry suffered especially steep losses in the recession. In Idaho, the number of construction workers remains more than 40 percent below its 2007 peak, even as local home prices regain lost ground and new home building picks up.

Data Source: Idaho Department of Labor

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