Craig Shaul economic outlook

The Idaho Legislature's Economic Outlook & Revenue Assessment Committee hears from Craig Shaul, research supervisor for the Idaho Department of Labor, on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020 at the state Capitol.

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Idaho’s 2018 median wage, which was released in May of 2019, is $34,260, ranking 43rd in the nation, Craig Shaul, research supervisor for the Idaho Department of Labor, told lawmakers on the Economic Outlook & Revenue Assessment Committee today. It’s the lowest of surrounding states, and is $820 below the next-lowest state, Montana.

“A common refrain in discussions of Idaho’s comparative wages is how the state’s lower cost of living compared with the rest of the nation compensates for its lower wages,” Shaul said. “While Idaho’s cost of living is indeed lower than the national average, our adjusted 2018 median wage of $36,836 does not improve Idaho’s ranking. Instead for 2018, our adjusted median wage reduces our ranking to 45th.”

Shaul noted that 2019 marked the 9th consecutive year of growth in Idaho’s labor market, with population, labor force, employment, jobs and wages all increasing over the past year. Idaho labor analysts expect Idaho’s unemployment rate, now just 2.9%, to edge up slightly in state fiscal year 2020 to 3.1% and to 3.5% for 2021. “This forecast is based on an expectation of continued gains in population, labor force, participation rates and job growth,” Shaul said. “Even as the expected averages are higher than the current one, the limited supply of labor still poses a challenge and potential constraint to the economy.”

Health care jobs are expected to show the most growth over the next year, increasing by 5,200 jobs, Shaul reported; that’s followed by leisure and hospitality, with 3,700 additional jobs. Construction jobs are projected to grow by 2,100.

“The acceleration in housing prices has been outpacing wage increases,” he noted. Rising rents also are becoming an increasing challenge for Idahoans.

Idaho’s population growth from 2008 to 2018 has been concentrated in its urban areas, Shaul reported. Meanwhile, rural Idaho has seen demographic shifts making its population increasingly older than the state’s urban population.

“The primary economic challenge to the state is the number of people available to work,” he said.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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