Writings and observations

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

I have always been extremely optimistic about Idaho and its future. Several years ago an Idaho journalist wrote a piece about being so depressed about living in Idaho that he was moving to another state. I was incensed and wrote a strong rebuttal that was picked up by several papers and brought me an offer from a news syndicate to begin writing for them. An offer which I declined.

But now I am seeing some disturbing statistics that are leaving me wondering if my optimism is really justifiable.

The fact that we lead the nation in the percentage of workers receiving the minimum wage is troubling. In 2011 5% of all of our workers were in minimum wage jobs. By 2012 the number had grown to 7.7%. By way of comparison, the rate for Montana is 1.5%, Oregon 1.1% and Washington 1.7%.

In Idaho we make it more attractive for recruiting employers that pay the minimum wage by keeping our minimum wage well below that of our neighboring states. Idaho’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Montana is $7.80, Oregon, $8.95, Nevada $8.25 and Washington $9.19.

Idaho’s median wage – half earn more and half earn less – is $18.48, which is 84 percent of the national average. Our statewide average wage places us in 45th place nationally.

Idaho’s population has grown significantly in recent decades. Much of that has come from people migrating to Idaho in search of better jobs and, for some, an improved quality of life.

But now we are seeing some rather startling new statistics concerning outmigration in Idaho.

According to the Idaho Department of Labor, in 2012 57,270 members of Idaho’s work force left the state. Nearly every age group under 55 experienced a decline, with those in the 25 to 29 year age category declining both as part of the labor force and part of the overall population.

In 2008, Idaho had 10,500 people with doctoral degrees. Since then, 700 of those have left, followed by 2,400 with master’s degrees, 10,300 with bachelor’s degrees and 3,600 with associate degrees. These are 27,500 of Idaho’s best educated citizens who are leaving at a time when the State Board of Education has announced its intent to have 60% of Idahoans aged 25-34 hold a college degree or post-secondary certificate within the next seven years. Only three states have a lower percentage of their high school graduates going on to college than Idaho. A cynic might note that with fewer Idahoans aged 25-34 it might be easier to meet that goal.

A major concern for Idaho, with the high number of young educated people leaving the state, needs to be whether that trend extends to Idaho’s best and brightest high school graduates also leaving the state to attend college. Attracting businesses to Idaho that require a skilled workforce and that pay relatively high wages could prove to be a challenge under these circumstances.

However, there are job opportunities out there. Just consider two recent Idaho job fairs. Eight Idaho businesses recently grouped together to hold a job fair in Boise. That is the good news. These businesses are hiring. The other part of the story is that the eight businesses run call centers paying wages well below even Idaho’s median wage.

And then there was the recent job fair in Idaho Falls to recruit employees for jobs paying $64,000 a year with health insurance, a 401(k) retirement account, three weeks paid vacation and profit sharing. The job fair was in Idaho Falls, but the jobs were all in North Dakota.

Idaho is in the midst of some challenging times. Unfortunately, I’m currently having some difficulty seeing the silver lining. Minimum wage jobs and an unskilled workforce are a poor mix when it comes to preparing for a prosperous future.

Marty Peterson is retired and lives in Boise.

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Idaho Peterson

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

The question of “a gun or a badge” for security in school classrooms seems to have been answered this week with the very successful testing of a WiFi-based system in a Nampa, Idaho, high school. (See “A gun or a badge” column below)

The equipment – made by EKAHAU – replaces badges most teachers already wear around their necks daily. But this one is sensitive to applied pressure in several spots. When touched, it silently calls for help, puts the school on “lockdown” and notifies local police dispatch – all in seconds. And I mean “seconds.” On Monday’s test in Nampa, it did all that in less than four!

A randomly selected teacher decided when to send a signal. Could have been any classroom on campus. All similar badges in the building flashed, a computerized map lit up and the school resource officer took off. From start to his arrival – less than 20 seconds!

In Sandy Hook Elementary, the gunman killed 26 people in just over five minutes. Using the Nampa cop’s response time of about 20 seconds – with gun drawn – you might have had some fatalities. Certainly not 26. What if this system saved 15 kids – or just one? Saved three teachers- or just one? Or you could have had 30 scared kids run screaming in all directions while a scared teacher tied to find a gun in a locked drawer to have a gunfight with a crazy person filling the classroom with bullets while waiting for a resource officer who might have been unaware of the danger.

The answer for me – from personal experience – is very simple. Several years ago, my teacher wife was attacked in a classroom by a teen almost her size. But stronger. A male teacher heard the racket and eventually responded. But what if she had been wearing one of these Ekahau badges? Would she have had the scrapes and bruises? Or been seriously injured?

A donor put up the $20,000 necessary for the system in Nampa. While $20,000 is a large sum, it allowed this state-of-the-art coverage in an entire high school.

We can’t expect all schools in all districts to have such citizen support. But the system works. It works so well districts across the country should begin budgeting school-by-school starting now. Make it a 10 year plan Or 20. Have some community fund raisers. Contact foundations, service clubs, corporations. Have bake sales and carwashes if necessary. Set a goal of one of these badge systems for the school your kids or grandkid go to and get started!

Or, as our friends at the NRA have decided, we can put a gun on the hip of every school teacher in every classroom and let ‘em shoot it out with the bad guys. Over and around the heads of ourloved ones. Our choice.

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Rainey