Idaho is once again at the bottom of a national ranking. The latest blow comes from WalletHub, which rates Idaho as the worst state for working mothers. Its ranking took into account numerous metrics, including daycare options, availability of pediatricians, education system and pay equity. This result is not an anomaly. Not long ago, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research rated Idaho 46 out of 51 for supporting working parents using similar metrics.
Idaho’s chronic failure to invest in its people has made us a “scroll-down state.” That is, when you look at rankings for different categories that make a state prosperous and healthy, you must scroll down to find Idaho. Idaho is 49th in GDP per capita, 47th in doctors per capita, 47th in average teacher salary, 48th in per-pupil education spending, and 48th on a 2018 list of “Best States for Higher Education.” If you’re looking for a list where we’re near the top, Idaho is 8th for highest percentage of minimum wage workers.
The key word when talking about education and healthcare is “investment” – an outlay designed to pay future dividends. Well-educated, healthy Idahoans earn more and live happier, more productive lives. For all the talk of being “business-minded,” the party in charge doesn’t seem to get this. While they applaud the “savings” from paying teachers low wages, underfunding higher education, rejecting Medicaid expansion and refusing to consider early childhood education, these decisions are all actually very costly to the people of Idaho, and are directly responsible for our cellar-dweller status on so many national lists. We are perpetually stepping over a dollar to get to a dime, and working families bear the brunt of this misguided policy.
For example, Idaho is one of only six states that doesn’t invest in pre-K education despite MANY studies that show dramatic returns to taxpayers in reduced remediation costs, higher literacy, increased graduation rates, higher lifetime earnings and reduced incarceration. For every dollar invested in pre-K, taxpayers save an estimated $7-17. Yet our Legislature refuses even to consider the issue, making life difficult and costly for working parents and ensuring our place in scroll-down territory.
Next consider Medicaid expansion, which the Legislature has stone-walled for six years. Idaho has turned down billions of dollars in federal funds to cover those living in poverty, many of whom are working parents. Idaho taxpayers are then forced to pick up the tab for the uninsured who show up in emergency rooms while our federal tax dollars flow to other states like California and Ohio. By refusing to expand Medicaid, Idaho is giving up a fortune to other states, using local tax dollars to over-pay for healthcare at home and leaving tens of thousands of working Idahoans in the lurch.
Idaho also invests far less than other states in medical residencies, leaving us with a doctor shortage, less healthcare access, and a loss of the jobs and economic benefits that doctors bring to communities. Again, not helpful policy for Idaho families.
Let’s talk higher education. Deep recessionary budget cuts from a decade ago still haven’t been reversed. Tuition continues to skyrocket as public universities scramble to make up funding shortages. Idaho is left with a dismal go-on rate and an undertrained workforce. By not investing in post-secondary education, we are denying our workers access to thousands of higher-paying jobs that go unfilled every year. A report to the Legislature this year noted that Idaho left 7,000 high-paying STEM jobs unfilled in 2017 and $450 million in wages unclaimed. That’s $51,000 an hour in lost wages – a number that is projected to get worse.
As a working mother of four, a state legislator and an Idahoan, the last thing I want to see is my state ranked bottom in the nation for working mothers. This should be a wake-up call that our current policies are hurting the working families we should be helping to succeed. By failing to invest in workforce development, pre-K education or healthcare, Idaho’s government is costing Idaho taxpayers far more than any purported savings. It is blowing opportunities for economic growth and higher-paying jobs and making life unnecessarily hard for families.
Idaho desperately needs a change in direction – and you have the power to do that in November. Medicaid expansion will be on the ballot, so you can vote on this crucial issue directly. You can help thousands of working families while bringing our tax dollars home and boosting the state’s bottom line. You can elect leaders who will invest in our children, workforce development, and health care access.
I’m sick of having to scroll down to find Idaho – help put us up top. Before you go, try “scrolling up” to the top of this article where “Idaho” is the first word. See how it feels.
Written by Rep. Ilana Rubel, the assistant Democratic leader in the Idaho State House of Representatives. She is the daughter of a working mother and the working mother of four herself.