Opinion » Note

Bottom Dollar

Education and the minimum wage

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In an article published last year on forbes.com, "Should Everyone Go to College?," Adam Ozimek wrote "decent jobs that don't require college degrees exist and so do college degrees that are really bad investments."

True enough, but Idaho high-schoolers are in a uniquely bad position. In this week's feature—by Pacific Northwest Inlander staff writer Daniel Walters—we learn that one in 10 Idaho teens will go on to earn a college degree. That number sends chills down the spines of educators, economic development specialists and employers alike. The many reasons for this trend are explored in Walters' piece, but can be distilled to a central tradeoff: incur the heavy debt associated with higher education or enter the workforce and build the skills necessary to earn a livable wage.

The latter career path has been and continues to be the best option for millions of Americans. In Idaho, however, it is riskier than almost anywhere else. More than 7 percent of workers in Idaho earn at or below the minimum wage, which is pegged to the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. That puts Idaho in the No. 2 spot for percentage of minimum wage workers nationwide. So far the Legislature seems dead set against even a modest increase—despite the real possibility that a federally-mandated wage hike could happen in the near future. Meanwhile, according to figures analyzed by the Idaho Department of Labor in January, Idaho wages ranked last in the country in 2012—even when adjusted for the state's lower cost-of-living.

Ozimek is right that "decent jobs that don't require college degrees exist," but they don't seem to exist in adequate numbers in Idaho.

We do have an education problem, but it won't be fixed until we address the underlying wage crisis.