Writings and observations

Job gaps

Before any Northwest politician makes pronouncements in this campaign year – and most of them, of both parties, will – about how wonderful their state’s economy is, they had better first read and take into account the new report Searching for Work that Pays: 2005 Job Gap Study.

Job Gap studyIf they have any real interest in how real people in their states really live – not just an unfortunate sliver of people either, but most of them – this study by the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations should have a strong sobering effect.

Consider this key finding and then ask how much our “booming economy” is doing for actual Northwesterners: “Of all Northwest job openings, 34% pay less than a living wage for a single adult and 79% pay less than a living wage for a single adult with two children, as shown in the chart below. It is important to note the distinction between jobs and job openings. Not all jobs come open during the course of a year, but some jobs may open repeatedly during a year due to turnover or seasonality of the work. Job openings are of particular interest because they provide employment opportunities for people looking for work.”

The days of all boats experiencing a lift clearly are over. And yet the problem, and solutions, have to do with more than job pay in itself.

The matter of definition: “A living wage is a wage that allows families to meet
their basic needs, without public assistance, and that provides them some ability to deal with emergencies and plan ahead. It is not a poverty wage.” But then, working full time is not commonly assumed to equate to poverty.

The problems for those on the working side of the equation starts with the odds of getting any job at all: In Idaho, there are two job applicants, on average, for every job opening, and three to one in Washington, and four to once in Oregon. The numbers get, roughly, doubly worse when it comes to finding a job that pays a living wage – and worse yet if the job seeker is supporting one or more children.

(Family values tend to vanish from discussion when family pay enters the picture.)

Broken down:

• In Idaho, for each job opening that pays at least the $9.30 an hour living wage for a single adult, there are two job seekers on average. For each job opening that pays at least the $20.28 an hour living wage for a single adult with two children, there are eight job seekers on average.

• In Montana, for each job opening that pays at least the $9.07 an hour living wage for a single adult, there are five job seekers on average. For each job opening that pays at least the $18.46 an hour living wage for a single adult with two children, there are 14 job seekers on average.

• In Oregon, for each job opening that pays at least the $10.77 an hour living wage for a single adult, there are six job seekers on average. For each job opening that pays at least the $22.37 an hour living wage for a single adult with two children, there are 21 job seekers on average.

• In Washington, for each job opening that pays at least the $10.77 an hour living wage for a single adult, there are four job seekers on average. For each job opening that pays at least the $22.35 an hour living wage for a single adult with two children, there are 12 job seekers on average.

The most pertinent part of the study, though, probably isn’t the statistics but the profiles of the working poor scattered throughout – these provide a look into exactly why the levels of pay are inadequate, and the consequences. The biggest single issue on the plates of many of these people is health care: Over and over, they point out that a single substantial health care bill throws them into a tailspin, if not bankruptcy. And thee’s little they can do about it.

A focus on attracting high-pay jobs clearly is one important part of the equation. But there are others, too, and the region’s cheerful political leaders would do well to consider a wide range of issues that so deeply affect so many of their constituents.

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2 Comments

  1. camas county said:

    I worked many years in Idaho and did not make a living wage, went to collage to acquire skills but didn’t really make that much difference, just a pitiful place to live if you expect to provide for a family “and” have a decent retirement/

    January 19, 2006
  2. demdiva said:

    I have watched my friends and neighbors struggle for years to try and find employment that allowed them to 1). feed their families and 2). buy a minimul amount of health insurance. Unfortunately, the politics of the situation are such that the conservatives believe that $9 per hour is a living wage and the liberals, while expounding all the right views have no interest in paying their gardener, housekeeper or the person who keeps snow off their roof one more dime than they have to. What hypocrisy.

    January 30, 2006

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