Bottom Rung: The Workforce Shift That’s Costing Idaho Good-Paying Jobs

May 9, 2013

A Steelhead Construction worker measures siding for a new home west of Boise.
Credit Molly Messick / StateImpact Idaho

Not long ago, you could hear the buzz of power saws all over the Treasure Valley. It was punctuated by the steady rhythm of hammers and nail guns. More than 10,000 homes went up in Ada and Canyon counties in the two years before the recession hit. Then, the sound stopped.

“’08 and ’09 were really hard,” says Aaron Wright of Steelhead Construction. He founded the siding and remodeling company as Idaho’s housing boom took hold. At the peak, Wright employed more than 30 people. When the market crashed, he scaled back to three.

“We’d do a house, maybe two, and then there might be a week and a half gap,” he says. “There was just not a lot of work.”

This week, StateImpact is focusing on low-wage work in Idaho through a series we’re calling “Bottom Rung.” Yesterday’s story offered one explanation for why the state’s low-wage workforce is growing: Retirees are moving in. An aging population demands services, and that means growth in service-sector jobs.

But if service jobs are what Idaho is gaining, what kinds of jobs has Idaho lost?

Construction is an easy culprit, if you’re looking for an industry that has cost Idaho good-paying jobs. On average, construction workers in Idaho made just under $18.50 an hour last year. The industry employs 41 percent fewer people today than it did in 2007.

But retired University of Idaho economist Stephen Cooke says the trouble in Idaho’s workforce runs deeper than the loss of construction jobs.

“That’s a cyclical problem,” Cooke says. “In addition to the cyclical problem, Idaho has a structural problem.” Click here to continue reading...