The past few days have been rough.
Many of my friends work for non-profits that serve the often forgotten — and usually ignored — populations in our community that are housing and/or food insecure. Their world is changing. Not only is the need greater than ever, but I also see and hear about more families whom you wouldn’t normally think of as homeless becoming just that. Idaho’s housing crisis is compounding the problem. There are several local Facebook groups that focus on community aid, and multiple times a day I see families posting looking for affordable housing. Unfortunately, there just isn’t any affordable housing to be had.
Rental companies increasingly require you to show that what they charge is no more than one-third of your take-home pay. I saw a billboard the other day offering jobs with a “great” starting wage for a position in a production facility here: $14-$19 per hour, depending on experience. Compared to our minimum wage of $7.25 that does sound like a good wage. What does that really mean? Let’s split the difference and say people make $17 an hour on average at that job. At 40 hours per week, that’s about $2,720 a month before taxes and other deductions. One-third of that is $906.
If you’re trying to support even a small family, you likely need at least a two-bedroom apartment. Do you have any idea how many two-bedroom apartments in Idaho Falls rent for under $900 per month? Honestly, it’s a challenge to find a one-bedroom for less than $900. Even with a “good” job in Idaho Falls, you can’t afford a modest rental. If you can’t find housing, you’re homeless. It’s that simple.
By some measures, our economy here in Idaho is booming. New companies want to take advantage of the lower cost of doing business. Our current elected officials champion the narrative that we’re doing better than ever. But can we really say that our economy is “healthy”? I find it interesting that most measures of an economy don’t look at factors affecting most of us down here on the ground. Think about it: If the stock market climbed 1,000 points in the next half-hour, how would your life change? What good are historically low-interest rates if you can’t meet the income guidelines for a mortgage because home prices are so high?
We need to reevaluate our definition of a strong economy. Our current leaders are making decisions based on a goal that has little impact on everyday Idahoans. They are sacrificing things that we actually need — such as early childhood education, health care and a robust K-12 education — in favor of corporate tax cuts to lure more businesses here. What is the point of enticing companies to come to town if the wage that they offer is not enough to meet even the basic needs of a family?
Let’s work together to build a healthy economy that meets our needs instead of just trying to check some arbitrary box.
David Roth is a nonprofit director and the chair of the Bonneville County Democratic Central Committee.