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NAMPA — A lack of livable wages is the biggest barrier for success for people in the Treasure Valley.

That’s according to the 2017 Community Assessment released Thursday by the United Way of Treasure Valley.

United Way collects and presents data every three years for the assessment, which focuses on financial, health and educational needs for the community.

Livable wages have remained the top barrier from the last assessment in 2014, said Nora Carpenter, president of United Way of Treasure Valley.

According to United Way’s research, 18 percent of people in Canyon County live below the federal poverty level, with an additional 23 percent living above the line but unable to pay for their basic needs.

Of property renters in Canyon County, 48 percent spend 30 percent of their income or more on their housing alone.

The housing market in the Valley is becoming thinner, Carpenter said, and Nampa has nearly run out of inventory. There are new projects underway, but the wait lists are long and many of the places won’t accept the low-income individuals who are looking.

Carpenter said another big takeaway from their research was that “ZIP code syndrome” is a real thing.

“Where you live matters,” Carpenter said.

She said the area in the Valley where someone lives can predict their physical and mental health, how long they live, even if they are more likely to vote in an election.

The Treasure Valley as a whole is getting younger, and Canyon County is the youngest of all. With that, some of the largest issues for the area lie in education.

According to United Way’s research, 82 percent of Canyon County 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds do not attend preschool, mostly due to financial barriers. Possibly because of this statistic, more than 60 percent of Canyon County students were not ready to read when they entered kindergarten.

Financial struggles continue to cause trouble for Canyon County students further on in their education. More than 60 percent of Nampa students qualify for free and reduced-priced meals, and that number rises to almost 90 percent for Caldwell.

The population of homeless students is rising in the Treasure Valley, as well, with the number expected to reach 4,000 this year — the largest portion coming from Nampa.

As part of its assessment, the United Way provided some potential solutions to the barriers they presented. Carpenter said that since the Valley still uses systems that are decades old, the creation of new and innovative systems could solve many problems. She said co-location of resources is something a lot of people are seeking out.

A not well-known tax break, called the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit, could help some low-income families earn more each year. The credit gives back money to employed individuals who earn less than $60,000 annually, Carpenter said. The average return for the credit is $2,341, and 70 percent of Idahoans qualify for it, but only 20 percent are aware of its existence.

Corey Surber, chairwoman of the executive committee of United Way, said the state of the Treasure Valley is overall uneven, but the people share a theme of equity.

“We all win by living united,” Surber said.

Erin Bamer is the city of Nampa reporter. Contact her at 208-465-8193, or ebamer@idahopress.com. Follow on Twitter @ErinBamer.

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