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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Labor: Idaho seeing more older residents, lower wages…

Some interesting stats from Bob Fick of the Idaho Department of Labor, who’s presenting to lawmakers this afternoon: Idaho saw a big jump in its 55-and-older population from 2010 to 2012, a 59.3 percent increase, compared to a national increase for that age group of 37.9 percent. The percentage of the state’s population that’s 55 and older went up from 19.5 percent in 1990 to 25.3 percent in 2012. At the same time, the state is starting to see some out-migration of younger residents, Fick reported.

Idaho’s average wage ranked 50th among the states in 2012, as did its per-capita income for that year, $34,418. The state’s percentage of hourly wage earners making the minimum wage, 7.7 percent, is the nation’s highest; the national average is 4.7 percent. Since 2007, Idaho is one of 10 states whose average wage failed to keep pace with even the low levels of inflation seen during the recession. From 2007 to 2012, the percentage of Idaho’s jobs that are part-time has jumped from 18.2 percent to 24.2 percent.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, commented that the state's bottom-level rankings for wages are a "dubious distinction," and he questioned how Idaho's fallen to last place on so many of those measures. "We need to understand, I think, as a state this phenomenon here, so that we can address this as we shape policy to improve these numbers," Bedke said. New state Labor Director Ken Edmunds responded, "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 ... push for more job creation in skilled areas. The reality is the nature of the jobs ... needs to shift now. ... We need to focus on the nature of the jobs and raising the compensation of those jobs."

He said that will require improvements in education. “Employers are saying they are not getting the employees they need at any level, as far as skills,” Edmunds said, “from recent high school graduates all the way up through people at high levels in computer science. ... We have to change our approach.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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