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Job Gap report advocates for wage, services improvements

Advocates seek legislative action to improve wages and social services supports to address poverty issues in Idaho, according to the recently released national 2013 Job Gap study.

“Idahoan workers will continue to struggle to provide for their basic needs unless wages increase and worker supports, like expanded Medicaid eligibility, are put in place,” states the 15th annual study, conducted by the Alliance for a Just Society in cooperation with the Idaho Community Action Network (ICAN).

The report (online at www.thejobgap.org) lists a living wage in Idaho ranges from $14.49 for a single individual to $17.69 per adult for a family of four with both parents working. For individual employment, there are 10 to one job seekers for every job opening that pays a living wage; and for a family of four with two working parents there are 45 to one job seekers for every living wage job opening.

For 2013, the study reported a total 112,853 job seekers in Idaho with a total 26,229 job openings.

“My family and I live on about $13,000 a year, and, for our family size, our income falls under 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Line [FPL],” said Robin Evans of Grangeville, in an interview from the study.

She and her husband share a newspaper delivery contract, traversing 575 miles each week, that earns them less than $1,000 each month. This, along with a part-time elementary school cafeteria job she has, “leaves us without a living wage, without access to health care, and without sufficient income to meet our monthly expenses,” Evans said.

The couple does not qualify for subsidies in the health care exchange as these begin at 100 percent FPL, she said. A lack of access to health care for more than five years took its toll last year, leaving her with a more than $25,000 hospital bill.

“A lack of a decent wage has put us in a precarious housing situation,” Evans said, and despite help from a fellow church member with a house to rent, the couple has fallen behind and owes more than five months of back rent.

“Still, we keep doing the best that we can to get through each month,” she said, “relying on community food programs and prioritizing which bills to pay what medications we can live without.”

To address such issues, ICAN is working to support the minimum wage increase (Idaho is currently at $7.25 per hour), Medicaid redesign, and to also put a 36 percent rate cap on the lending industry, which the organization noted is 438 percent on average in the state.

“I would like to see legislation around those issues to protect the people that are working as hard as they are but still not having ends meet,” said Dist. 17 Representative Sue Chew (D, Boise). “It’s important to look at the Governor’s Education Task Force recommendations, including restoring funding to 2009 levels. It’s important to break the cycle of poverty, and one way to do that is through higher education.”

Raise Idaho, a grass-roots campaign, is working to get a minimum wage initiative on the November 2014 ballot, according to the Idaho Statesman. This will require gathering at least 84,000 signatures within the next four months.

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