By and large, when an Idaho Republican surveys the state of the state, he delivers a glowing report.
Gov. Brad Little was no different. Last week, he highlighted the positive.
Why wouldn’t he? The economy is growing. A lot of state regulations have disappeared.
The budget is lean. Higher education is getting quite a bit less, prisons are taking quite a bit more.
But suppose, just for the sake of argument, someone measured Idaho’s well-being as follows:
l Earnings — No less than the state Department of Labor reported that Idaho’s household median income at $34,260 is ranked 43rd out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. That puts Idaho behind every one of its neighbors, including Montana ($35,080), Nevada ($35,550), Utah ($36,790), Oregon ($39,580), Wyoming ($40,240) and Washington ($46,100).
Thank your lucky stars you’re not in one of those places where incomes are even lower, such as New Mexico ($34,120), South Carolina ($33,750), Alabama ($33,740), South Dakota ($33,450), Louisiana ($33,390), West Virginia ($32,640) Arkansas ($31,850) and Mississippi ($30,580).
Here’s one reason: At $7.25 an hour, Idaho retains one of the lowest minimum wages in the country. Among its neighbors, only Utah and Wyoming share that distinction. Washington comes in at $13.50. In Oregon, it’s $12 — or $11.50 in rural areas. Nevada’s rate is set at $9 an hour, $8 with health insurance. Montana’s minimum wage is $8.65.
And if you think that’s merely the wage paid teenagers or part-timers, think again. According to the Brookings Institution, two-thirds of people making minimum wage are ages 25 to 64. About 57 percent are working full time. More than half are supporting households and 37 percent have children.
It gets worse — not better — if you consider Idaho’s cost of living. That’s because housing hasn’t been a bargain since the 1990s. In fact, more than half the people in Idaho spend in excess of 30 percent of their incomes on lodging.
Add that to the mix, says the Labor Department, and Idaho’s adjusted median wage drops to 45th place.
l People left behind — Believe it or not, it remains legal in Idaho to openly discriminate against people — on the job, in housing and public accommodations — because they’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Thirteen Idaho communities — including Lewiston and Moscow — have taken matters into their own hands by passing anti-discrimination ordinances. About one-third of Idaho’s population lives under those laws.
But for more than a decade, Idaho lawmakers have refused to add the words “sexual orientation and gender identity” to the state’s human rights law. In their view, progress means an occasional hearing here, a party-line vote there and a so-called compromise that enshrines someone’s God-given right to be mean on the basis of a “sincerely held religious belief.”
l Devaluing children — Kids suffer and die in Idaho because their parents refuse to provide medical care — under the guise of faith healing. For more than five years, state lawmakers have been content with Idaho sharing with Virginia the distinction of tolerating the nation’s most lenient loopholes — even after a child fatality review team linked 10 child deaths to members of a religious cult operating in Canyon County.
Meanwhile, there’s talk of undermining a law that obligates teachers, day care operators, social workers and health care providers to report suspected child abuse, abandonment or neglect — as well as undermining child protection services investigations.
l Losing faith in the political system — When Idaho lawmakers imposed a series of anti-teacher reforms, voters repealed them at the polls. When legislators ignored the plight of low-income working adults for six years, Idaho voters stepped up and approved Medicaid expansion at the ballot box.
Where lawmakers have zealously cut taxes to the detriment of perennially underfunded public education system, voters may this year insist on restoring taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals.
Where lawmakers have refused to address the minimum wage for a decade, voters this year may decide to incrementally raise it to $12.
And where lawmakers have ignored the relaxation of marijuana laws in states surrounding Idaho — including Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Montana and even Utah — Idaho voters may decide for themselves.
How have legislators responded to the voice of the people?
They’ve actively pursued dismantling the initiative process.
So if you’re among the working poor, a minority, a child in distress or even someone on the outside looking in on Idaho’s political establishment, the state of your state is dismal. — M.T.