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Education in Idaho is key for jobs

Idaho State Journal Editorial Board
January 7, 2013
Idaho State Journal

The education level of a state's workforce has a direct connection to wage levels. One look at Idaho validates this premise.

The Gem State ranks last in the U.S. for overall earnings with a median annual wage of $23,192.

The state Department of Labor says a family of four needs at least $39,000 annually to survive, but only a third of the jobs in all of Idaho pay that much or more.

It's no surprise then that Idaho has seen the largest increase of any state nationwide for people on food stamps.

The state also ranks near the bottom in terms of equal pay for women. Idaho women currently earn just 78 percent of what their male counterparts are paid.

Making Idaho's wage situation worse is the current direction of the state's economy - away from high-paying manufacturing jobs and toward low-pay service sector positions.

It seems improbable, but since 1990, Idaho has gained just 10,000 manufacturing jobs. During the same span the service sector - retail stores, hotels and call centers - has grown by more than 200,000 positions.

"You look at manufacturing in general in Idaho, and the only thing that's really held its own is food processing," said Department of Labor spokesman Bob Fick.

Fick also said the state has one of the highest rates in the nation of people working more than one job.

And none of these troubling economic trends in Idaho is expected to change anytime soon.

The same can unfortunately be said for the statistics that go hand in hand with those poor economic indicators - Idaho's education rankings.

It's time to stop ignoring that Idaho is almost the worst state in the nation - ranking 49th - for per-pupil education spending.

Our teachers are also among the worst paid.

We rank almost at the bottom - 47th - in terms of college enrollment after high school.

Our college graduation rates are almost as bad - 44th nationwide.

Idaho's education system is aptly fueling a state economy in which waitresses, clerks and call-center workers are in the most demand.

With this status-quo, companies that pay good wages and need a highly educated workforce will clearly stay away.

It's as if Idaho is caught in a vicious cycle of its own creation.

We have underfunded our educational system in the hopes that lower taxes for industry will magically make better-paying jobs appear.

We have made every attempt to neuter union influence and continue to herald what an employer-friendly state we have.

These efforts haven't persuaded the kind of employers that will increase state revenue with higher wages and spending.

With the legislative session starting this week in Boise, let's hope our elected leaders realize the connection between education and earning potential, and find the current situation as unsatisfactory and intolerable as the rest of us.

Originally posted at

The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.

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