Imagine if an Idaho company employing more than 7,600 people announced today it was closing down operations and moving to another state.
Would you panic? Many people would. That would be a huge blow to our state.
Would you want your public officials to do something about it? Of course. Companies that employ that many people don’t come along very often.
To be fair, your public officials probably would try to do something about it. Every elected official from the governor down to the local dog-catcher would be in a dead sprint toward the CEO of that company trying to stop them from leaving the state. It would be a five-alarm emergency that lawmakers would bend over backwards to fix.
Here’s the thing. Idaho is going through that very situation. We have been for years. Only, the politicians aren’t doing anything about it. That’s why the Invest in Idaho citizen ballot initiative is so important.
Idaho’s STEM Action Center made its annual report to the legislature this week. As it turns out, Idaho’s jobs crisis is getting worse – significantly worse. Last year, Idaho left 7,633 STEM-related jobs unfilled. Those are jobs in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields. As a result, we lost more than a half-billion dollars in personal income. That’s “billion” with a “B.” That adds up to more than $27 million in lost tax revenue for the state. That’s money that could go toward paying veteran teachers competitive wages (the governor is proposing $30 million toward that goal) or grocery tax relief (the governor is proposing $35 million).
Make no mistake about it, Idaho is in the middle of a jobs crisis much like the one described above, and yet nothing is being done about it.
The path toward securing those family-supporting jobs is of course investing in Idaho’s schools. Kids with solid Career-Technical training in high school can land some of those jobs and pocket those wages. Students with a two-year degree in computer science or healthcare skills can do the same without taking on mountains of student loan debt.
The problem is, this crisis is happening in slow motion. The politicians can sit back and use words like “accountability” when talking about our public schools without ever being held accountable themselves. These reports on Idaho’s jobs crisis are nothing new. We’ve been bleeding jobs, personal income and tax revenue for years. The difference is, you can now do something about it.
The reason these family-supporting jobs are not being filled is simple: Idaho is not providing our children with the education they need to fill them. That may sound like some philosophical argument, but that statement hits Idaho families where it matters most. Whether it’s at the dinner table, the front porch or out in the neighborhood, Idaho families are struggling to make ends meet. How frustrating can it be to know there are good-paying jobs out there which hard-working Idahoans can’t fill.
The average STEM-related job pays more than $32.00 per hour. Non-STEM jobs pay less than half of that – about $15.00 per hour. When you have rent, car and utility payments to make every month, that’s a HUGE difference. How many families would feel more secure if you spread half-a-billion dollars around the state. That’s especially true for Idaho’s smaller counties where families struggle to stay afloat every year.
Unfortunately, your elected leaders vote to either cut or slightly increase funding for education in our great state. The lack of urgency in the face of a jobs crisis is not just puzzling, it’s a slap in the face to thousands of working Idaho families.
If you are waiting on the politicians to take action to address Idaho’s jobs crisis in a serious way, you may be waiting a long time. In fact, you already have. This crisis has been going on for years and will likely continue into this decade. When the politicians sit on their hands instead of addressing a crisis, it’s time to take matters into your own hands. The Invest in Idaho ballot initiative would bring up to $200 million of new investments into our K-12 public schools. You can make a difference for the next generation even if the politicians won’t.
We are in the middle of a five-alarm fire when it comes to jobs and prosperity in our state. It’s time to actually do something about it.