Idaho’s average annual wage rates and per capita income are among the lowest of all states and the state is dead last in the rate of wage increases since 2007, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The state has the second-highest percentage of minimum-wage workers in America, meaning the proportion of minimum-wage workers in the overall workforce, with the minimum wage stuck at the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour since 2009, while neighboring states have moved ahead, with Oregon and Washington having the nation’s highest state minimum-wage standards. As recently as 2006, Idaho’s personal income was 83.4 percent of the U.S. average. Last year, it was just 79.1 percent of the national average.
The minimum wage is not simply an entry-level pay rate for newcomers to the job market. In many service-sector jobs, it is a standard that workers have no hope of rising above without changing employers. In Idaho, 27 percent of workers getting the minimum wage are living at or below the poverty level. That translates to 15.7 percent of Idaho women living in poverty, 10 percent of seniors living in poverty, and 40 percent of single-parent families with children living below poverty, with 21 percent of children living below poverty, and an even worse situation for Hispanic children, of whom 53,000 subsist at 200 percent below poverty.
The Idaho Legislature’s refusal to take full advantage of federal economic programs has only added to the plight of low-income families, of whom more than 91,000 families receive federal SNAP (food stamp) assistance. With an overall poverty rate of 15.9 percent, and 6.1 percent living in what is called the “extreme poverty rate,” that means 38.6 percent of Idaho’s low-income families – taxpaying workers contributing to the system – are living in poverty, and the cost of providing even a subsistence-level lifestyle is higher in rural areas of Idaho than in Boise.
Low income affects every other aspect of Idaho’s quality of life. State officials acknowledge that the state’s poor educational standing is the key contributing factor in low wages and a major policy concern. Kenneth Edmunds, director of the Idaho Department of Labor, a Certified Public Accountant and former member of state Board of Education, told lawmakers in January, “The issue going forward is the nature of our workforce. We’ve been creating jobs because of a need to create jobs and bring the unemployment rate down, but now we need to … focus on the nature of the jobs and raising the compensation of those jobs.” Toward building a skilled workforce and attracting more, better-paying jobs to Idaho, his department has instituted the Learn and Earn program, to give incentives to companies to hire and empower workers to improve or obtain proficiency in high-tech jobs in coding and related computer skills, as well as health care and advanced manufacturing technologies. will empower workers in areas like computer science and coding. Part of Learn and Earn involves salary supplements to offer apprenticeships in selected career fields. There is more work to be done.

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