Idaho Wages Stagnate Despite Low Unemployment

Nov 20, 2018

Credit Molly Messick / Boise State Public Radio

While Idaho’s unemployment rate is among the nation’s lowest, wages continue to lag far behind the rest of the country, according to a new study.

Over the past four decades, the average U.S. wage has inched up to $55,338. However, Idaho’s average wage has barely budged over that same time period while adjusting for inflation. Last year, workers here took home $41,320.

Even factoring in Idaho’s low cost of living didn’t do much to close that gap. Those working in the state still take home about $11,000 less per year than the average American.

“The picture that emerged was one of Idaho getting left behind, essentially,” says Sasha Pierson, an analyst for the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy.

The nonpartisan think tank released this new report the same day the Idaho Department of Labor announced the state’s unemployment rate was at or below three percent for the 14th consecutive month.

Pierson says this gap has huge implications for people  – not only when they’re in line at the grocery store, but also years into the future.

“The difference between the average wage in Idaho and the average American wage represents nearly $408,000 over the course of a 40-year career,” she says.

She points to the number of Idahoans without a college degree as a major culprit for the gap. Another 58,000 state residents would need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree for Idaho to catch up to the national average.

State officials and business leaders have embraced a goal of at least 60 percent of young adults earning a postsecondary degree or professional certificate by 2025, a date they had to postpone once already.

But little progress has been made. According to Idaho Education News, only 42 percent of young adults earned a college diploma or certificate last year – a number that hasn’t changed since 2015.

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