In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Idahoans gathered at the Capitol Monday night to talk about economic injustice that is keeping our state from reaching its fullest potential. About 250 people attended the “Kitchen Table Economics” forum sponsored by the Idaho Jobs Coalition, a collection of more than 20 organizations including the Idaho Education Association.
Keynote speaker Dr. Stephen Cooke, a retired University of Idaho professor, outlined a grim litany of facts about jobs in Idaho. For example:
• In 2009, the average wage in the United States was close to $46,000. In Idaho it was about $35,000. Idaho has consistently ranked 47th or 48th in wages over the past decade.
• Although Idaho added many jobs during the first decade of this century, most were in low-wage occupations including retail, call centers, dairies, and home health caregivers.
• Boise used to be known as a corporate headquarters town, but it has lost that status (and with it, many higher-wage jobs).
Cooke will also present his findings tomorrow to the Idaho Legislature’s Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee. Here’s a StateImpact Idaho report on his work, too.
Several teachers were among the dozen or so working Idahoans who briefly shared their stories after Cooke’s presentation. Rick Stoddard is a teacher from Galileo Math and Science Magnet School in Meridian. His wife is also a teacher and he said they do odd jobs each summer to make ends meet “while making do with a leaky dishwasher” and other belt-tightening moves.
Stoddard says he loves his job, but he is frustrated with elected officials who “led a charge to basically gut teachers’ rights” and “barred the way for a true good-faith path through this economic downturn.” He noted that education is his second career; he previously worked in the electronics industry, and he saw how good companies invested in research and development. “In society, education is the R&D department,” he added. He lamented that elected officials seem to think they can reduce the cost of education by replacing teachers with computers and online classes, noting, “That’s like some buffet where it’s not great, but you eat a lot.”
Kari Overall, a teacher at Boise’s South Junior High, said that she graduated from college and helped put her husband through college before returning for her own master’s degree. They signed up for “graduated” student loan repayment plans with the idea that they’d be earning more each year, but with frozen wages and furlough days, Overall says they have less disposable income now than they did in 2008. Like many other young couples, they bought a house at the height of the real estate bubble that’s now worth less than they paid for it. “People are working hard and deserve to be treated better than they are being treated,” she added.
A reminder: On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee will hear testimony on two key topics: the rule requiring two online credits for high school graduation and a rule that seems to rewrite Senate Bill 1108 by using the phrase “limited to” rather than “including” to describe what can be discussed in contract negotiations. The meeting will start at 3 p.m. in Room WW55 on the Garden Level of the Idaho Capitol.