Friday, February 27, 2015

Bill That Would Raise Idaho's Minimum Wage Gets Print Hearing

Posted By on Fri, Feb 27, 2015 at 11:48 AM

A bill that would raise Idaho's minimum wage has received a print hearing, and is now waiting to be scheduled for public testimony.

The bill, fronted by Rep. Mat Erpelding (D-Boise) and Sen. Michelle Stennett (D-Ketchum), appeared before the Senate State Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Curt McKenzie (R-Boise). There's no word yet on when public testimony on the bill, which would raise the state's minimum wage from the federal minimum—$7.25 per hour—to $8.25 in 2015, $9.25 in 2016 and then peg the wage to the consumer price index, will take place. 

"It is absolutely critical for working families in Idaho that this minimum wage bill has a public hearing. Hardworking Idahoans who are trying to survive on poverty wages deserve to have their stories heard by their elected representatives," wrote Idaho AFL-CIO President Aaron White in a press release.

Raising the minimum wage has been a conversation topic in the region for years, and two of Idaho's neighbors—Oregon and Washington—have recently raised theirs. They also are among the states with the highest minimum wages in the country. Forbes reports that Wal-Mart and TJ Maxx have both raised the minimum wages for their employees.

In Idaho, organized labor and other stakeholders have pushed for legislation for years. Others have argued that doing so in Idaho could yield the same economic benefits it did in nearby states. 
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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Ferguson and Carpenter Tackle Idaho's Embattled Middle Class at City Club Forum

Posted By on Tue, Feb 10, 2015 at 4:49 PM

Left to right: United Way of the Treasure Valley President and CEO Nora Carpenter, economist Mike Ferguson and City Club of Boise moderator Dick Gardner - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Left to right: United Way of the Treasure Valley President and CEO Nora Carpenter, economist Mike Ferguson and City Club of Boise moderator Dick Gardner
Economist Mike Ferguson needed more time with the microphone. 

At the City Club of Boise's panel discussion "The Disappearing Middle Class," which took place at The Owyhee Feb. 10, moderator Dick Gardner repeatedly had to interject to wrest the microphone from the recently retired executive director of the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy. As plain spoken as Ferguson can be, none of his analysis of the forces eroding the Gem State's middle class was as simple as a sound bite. 

Broadly speaking, Ferguson said that those forces are tax policies, labor policies and corporate governance. And while the economy has, in many respects, rebounded in the wake of the Great Recession, working families have been losing ground against the interests of capital since the 1970s, he said.

"More of the rewards of our economy are going to non-labor elements," Ferguson told the crowd.

Between the end of World War II and about 1975, real compensation per hour and real output per hour increased roughly in tandem. In other words, American wages and productivity were proportional. But between 1970 and 2005, output increased by 113 percent while compensation increased by only 51 percent. Between 2005 and 2014, output increased by 13.7 percent while compensation increased 2.5 percent. 

Ferguson also noted that, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis, Idahoans were making about 80 percent of the national average per capita personal income, down from almost 95 percent of the national average in the mid-1970s. Since 2010, Idaho has consistently ranked among the five lowest states for per capita income. 

"What we see is Idaho scraping the bottom of the barrel," he said. "We've lost ground. We're pulling up the rear."

Ferguson admitted that the numbers are hard to put into context. There to humanize the toll that low wages in Idaho have had on working families was United Way of Treasure Valley President and CEO Nora Carpenter. United Way recently published its Community Assessment 2014, which concluded that the percentage of schoolchildren in Ada County who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches rose by 17 percent while the number of kindergarteners scoring "at benchmark in the Idaho Reading Indicator decreased by 2.7 percent. 

Carpenter warned that the Treasure Valley is at risk for developing "Zip Code Syndrome," in which wealth and poverty pool geographically. During United Way's Community Assessment process, Carpenter said that "transportation is a barrier to everything." Infrastructure investment and economic development patterns in the Treasure Valley are making commutes longer and communities less complete or sustainable, she said. 

At the same time, middle-class families are landing in a "donut hole" between access to social services and financial security. 

"I earn too much, but not enough," Carpenter said was a common refrain among families and individuals struggling to make ends meet.

She gave the example of "Crystal," an educated single mother making $15 an hour with modest employment benefits who, despite being fully employed, struggles to manage her time and feed her family. Families like Crystal's need flexibility, and they find it in unlikely—and often risky—places like health care.

"The real bubble is health. That's where people choose not to spend," Carpenter said. 
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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Tribune: Idahoans Head to Dakota Oil Fields For Better Wages, Miserable Living Conditions

Posted By on Sun, Feb 8, 2015 at 11:01 AM

The price of oil has fallen precipitously in the past few months and the U.S. Labor Department reported on Feb. 6 that the biggest drop in jobs during the month of January was in the oil and gas industry. But that hasn't stopped the flow of men and women from pulling up stakes in the Gem State and heading to the oil fields of North Dakota.

North Dakota's oil and gas industry began taking off in 2007 and it is estimated that there were more than 440,000 jobs in the industry in 2014, primarily in the west and northwest portion of that state.

This morning's Lewiston Tribune chronicles the journey of a number of Idaho residents who have sold their homes or left behind family members to work 800 miles away in North Dakota's oil fields.

"The money is good and it is helping us to get the dreams, the goals we have in a shorter period of time," Laurie Counts told the Tribune, adding that she, her husband and even their son found high-paying jobs. 

Not everyone's journey has been a dream. The Tribune reports that a number of workers have had to "tolerate primitive conditions and hostile co-workers" with trash-talk and fist-fights not uncommon for new hires. The modern-day oil boom has transformed the formerly sleepy area now known as the Bakken oil fields, bringing with it economic exploitation, prostitution, even murder

While Laurie Counts has recently returned to Idaho, her husband and son are renting a house that they share with three other people, paying $3,000 a month, but the furnace needs fixing and the roof leaks. Before moving into the rental, the Countses lived in a Walmart parking lot, with 600 other people.

"You'd think it's easy, but it's not," Jesse Counts told the Tribune.
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Idaho Revenue Report Card: Corporate Tax Receipts Way Up, Sales Tax Steady

Posted By on Sun, Feb 8, 2015 at 12:07 AM

One of the most closely scrutinized documents during any session of the Idaho Legislature is the state's economic report card, better know as the Idaho General Fund Revenue Report. And the most recent report offers lawmakers a bit of optimism.

The revenue report indicates that Idaho's 2015 General Fund receipts of $320.6 million were about $1 million more than expected. For the current 2014 fiscal year, to date, General Fund collections are about $21 million above predictions. 

The real headline is that corporate income tax collections led the pace, which in January were $6.4 million higher than forecast. That covered poor collections of individual income tax receipts ($3 million below forecast), sales tax receipts ($1.3 million below forecast) and miscellaneous revenue receipts ($1.1 million below forecast). 

The Idaho Division of Financial Management reports that corporate income tax collections exceeded expectations "largely because of lower-than-expected refunds," pushing more revenue to the bottom line. To date, the current fiscal year's corporate income tax collections are $11.4 million more than the forecasted $99.5 million. 

In sales tax collections. January is a much-watched month for sales tax because it includes receipts from holiday sales. While January's numbers were relatively close to expectations, they were still $1.3 million below forecast. To date, the current fiscal year's sales tax collections are right about on-target.
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Friday, February 6, 2015

Nation's Jobless Figure Inches Up, But So Do Payrolls, Wages

Posted By on Fri, Feb 6, 2015 at 9:53 AM

The bad news is that the nation's unemployment level ticked up 1/10th of a point to 5.7 percent in January. The good news is that U.S. non-farm payrolls jumped by 257,000 last month, and November and December's figures were revised to show an additional 147,000 workers were on the payroll. 

All in, the number of full-time workers topped 120 million for the first time since July 2008 and wages went up by an average of 12 cents an hour, representing an annualized gain of 2.2 percent.

The U.S. Labor Department reported this morning that the nation's manufacturing sector added 22,000 jobs in January, while construction payrolls increased 39,000. The oil and gas industry's payrolls fell 1,900 in January. Temporary help slipped 4,100, the first drop in a year.
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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Attention Shoppers: Albertsons Given Green Light to Buy Safeway

Posted By on Wed, Jan 28, 2015 at 9:01 AM

Albertsons is dramatically different from the store that Joe Albertson first opened in Boise nearly 75 years ago.

Albertsons Incorporated grew to nearly 2,500 stores from coast to coast by the early 21st century, operating under the names Albertsons, Acme, Bristol Farms, Shaw's and Star Markets.

Then in 2006, Albertsons was sold to Minnesota-based Supervalu and that conglomerate ultimately sold off many of its under-performing stores. In late 2013, a core group  of investors decided to keep Albertsons based in Boise.

On Jan. 27, the Federal Trade Commission said that Albertsons could proceed to the express check-out line it is purchase of competitor Safeway. In March 2014, Albertsons said it would buy Safeway for $7.64 billion in cash. But before the deal was finalized, the FTC forced the companies to sell off 168 stores in eight states.  

Albertsons currently has about 1,100 stores under its own name as well as Acme, Jewel-Osco and others, while Safeway has approximately 1,300 locations under its name and Tom Thub and Cars. Together, the companies have nearly 250,000 workers.
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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Department of Labor: Idaho's December 2014 Jobless Rate Lowest in Seven Years

Posted By on Sat, Jan 24, 2015 at 11:29 AM

Idaho's jobless rate in December was the lowest it has been in 7 years, according to the Idaho Department of Labor.

In the final month of 2014, the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dipped another two-tenths of a percent to a 7-year low of 3.7 percent. Total employment inched forward 300 jobs to reach a total of 743,000 jobs—a record—while the number of unemployed people statewide fell by 1,600. The Gem State's unemployment rate has dropped by a full percentage point. 

The preliminary annual jobless rate has been set at 4.6 percent. That's down 1.3 percent from 2013 and is the lowest annual jobless rate since 2007, when it was 3 percent. Those figures will be revised in March to reflect further data collection.

According to the Department of Labor, these numbers may, in part, reflect a potential outflow of retiring Baby Boomers from the job market. 

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Analysis: 47 Percent of Idaho Public School Students Qualify for Meal Assistance

Posted By on Sun, Jan 18, 2015 at 10:01 AM

A new analysis confirms that there is an increasing number of poor students in the United States, and as many as 47 percent of Idaho students are eligible to receive free- or reduced-price lunches.

The study from the Southern Education Foundation, looked at federal data and found that 51 percent of children in American public schools qualified for subsidized meals in 2013, compared to 38 percent in 2000.

Close to two-thirds of the nation's poorest children are in the South, according to the report, but the West has a growing proportion of low-income students: 59 percent in Utah, 51 percent in Nevada, 49 percent in Oregon, 45 percent in Washington and Idaho's 47 percent.

“We in no way are providing schools and teachers in schools with what it takes to educate low-income students today, as they continue to become a huge part of the school population,” Steve Suitts, the foundation's vice president, told The New York Times.

The Times reports that President Barack Obama is planning to request an additional $1 billion in 2016, earmarked for particular school districts with higher percentages of poor students.


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Friday, January 16, 2015

Times-News: Clif Bar Official Promises 'Living Wage' For Idaho Workers

Posted By on Fri, Jan 16, 2015 at 9:53 AM

It was the fall of 2013 when Clif Bar announced that it would build a $90 million, 270,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Idaho's Magic Valley. 

While Clif Bar continues to build its huge Twin Falls complex, one of the big questions has remained: How much will the jobs pay? On Thursday, Clif Bar Bakery General Manager Dale Ducommun stood before the Twin Falls Optimist Club and insisted that his company will pay a living wage to its local workers.

This morning's Twin Falls Times-News reports that Ducommun said his company "will set salaries based on what's needed to sustain a two-income, four-person household, as determined by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study." The company will also offer health insurance benefits and a stock option plan.

Clif Bar expects to employ about 200 people when it opens its doors in April 2016 and hopes to employ as many as 450 workers. Groundbreaking is scheduled for this coming April, on land just south of the Chobani facility in the Twin Falls Jayco industrial park.

The Times-News reports that the Clif Bar campus is planned to include a health and wellness center. Company officials said they're currently interviewing candidates for maintenance, food safety, engineering and human resources positions.
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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence Connects Low Wages, Domestic Abuse

Posted By on Wed, Jan 14, 2015 at 1:11 PM

A growing coalition supports raising Idaho's minimum wage above the federal minimum—$7.25 an hour. That coalition includes United Action and Vision for Idaho, the Idaho Jobs Coalition, labor groups from across the state like AFL-CIO of Idaho and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; and Catholic Charities of Idaho.

Add to that the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, which connected Idaho's low wages to women's ability to leave abusive relationships. 

"The Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence is deeply committed to an increase in minimum wage as a solution to the poverty that creates barriers to escaping an abusive relationship, and in moving from short-term safety to long-term security, and to economically sustainable, independent lives," wrote ICASDV Executive Director Kelly Miller in a press release.

According to CDC studies conducted in 2010 (and updated in 2013 and 2014), a key factor for women leaving abusive relationships is their economic independence. And Idaho has one of the largest rates of minimum-wage employment in the country. 

But Miller said that beyond national studies and surveys, shelters and abuse victim services across the state are reporting similar findings. 

"This is stemming from women who are seeking services. This is coming from research, but it's also coming from what we're hearing from our sexual and domestic problems around the state," she said.

Miller said that current attempts to raise Idaho's minimum wage will likely not put many such wage earners above the poverty line, they're "a step in the right direction."

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