Low-wage Jobs in Idaho – Peace in the Marketplace

by Carol Stirling, Boise First Congregational UCC

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” — Matthew 22:39b

Jobs should lift all people out of poverty, not keep them in it. But in the U.S. and in Idaho, fully one-quarter of all jobs pay poverty-level wages. The federal poverty level is $22,050 for a family of four. However, research suggests the average family needs an income of about twice the federal poverty level, or about $45,000, to meet basic needs. By that standard, 54% of people in Idaho are unable to live life with basic needs met.
Who are the low-wage workers — Most minimum-wage workers are young: 51% ages 16-24 and 21% ages 25-34. Most minimum-wage workers (59%) have no advanced education beyond high school. Nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage earners are food service workers. Part-time workers are paid less than full-time workers. There is far less upward mobility from low income to middle income, which manifests in negative consequences to the individual, family and community.
Where are the low-wage jobs — Low-wage jobs can be found in cleaning, caring for children and elders, selling items to customers. These jobs need to be done in our local communities and cannot be outsourced. They are less likely to provide benefits such as health insurance or sick leave.
Too many low-wage jobs — Over one-quarter of all jobs in the U.S. (26%) pay poverty-level wages, so low that a full-time worker cannot keep a family of four out of poverty. These jobs are more likely to be held by people of color.