Friday, May 26, 2006

Fuzzy math in Idaho economic reporting

After a while, these statistics start to jump out at you. I see a lot of reporting touting the economic growth and prosperity in Idaho, including an average wage increase of 5% for Idaho workers in 2005, good prospects for employment and starting a small business, and overall growth of the Idaho economy all sound very well and good, but something is amiss.
  • The most recent Economic Policy Survey of all 50 states found Idaho’s inflation adjusted median wage (the wage of workers in the middle) is 8.5% lower now than it was 20 years ago. The lowest paid workers in Idaho lost 5% in the same time period.(link)
  • Idaho employers, small and large, public and private, are cutting back on basic benefits for full-time and part-time workers, including medical, optical and dental insurance, paid vacation time, and retirement savings plans.(link)(link)
What one can conclude from this info is that there is more money in Idaho now than there was two, five, or ten years ago, but that it's more often than not falling into the hands of those who already had it in the first place. Especially telling is the fact that the average salary has increased over the past few years, but the median has decreased; this means that the ceiling on wages is rising while those in middle- or low-earning jobs are either earning the same amount or even less than they were a few years ago. To use Ezra Klein's metaphor, it's "a rising tide that lifts only yachts."

Given the timing of the release of the Idaho Fringe Benefits Survey and the results of the primary election, I think it prudent to also note that newly minted Idaho first congressional district Republican nominee Bill Sali was one of the majority Republicans who opposed raising Idaho's minimum wage from its dismal (and almost a decade old) rate of $5.15/hour. Given Sali's huge support from the anti-worker, anti-minimum-wage-hike Club for Growth, I doubt we could expect much better from Sali in the US House were he to make it there (God forbid!).

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