Only one of Idaho's 44 counties--Butte County, home of the Idaho National Laboratory--payed mean weekly wages above the national average. 

Idaho was the second lowest wage state in the nation to the start of 2021, and Blaine County sits right around the state’s average in weekly pay, according to federal first-quarter data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The average wage for a Blaine County worker in March 2021 was $918 per week—$22.95 per hour based on a 40-hour week. That’s marginally above Idaho’s $906 weekly average, which ranks 50th out of the 50 states plus Washington, D.C., only out-earning Mississippi’s $811 per week.

Nationwide, the average wage stood at $1,289 per week. Across all of Idaho’s 44 counties, only one—Butte County, home of the Idaho National Laboratory—reported a mean weekly wage above the national average.

Year-over-year wages have risen across the state—just not as fast as the nation as a whole. While Idaho saw pay rise 4.9%between March 2020 and March 2021, the country writ large saw 5.6% growth.

Blaine’s wages are pulled down by its most common industry: leisure and hospitality. Those tourism-related positions represent approximately a quarter of the 12,725 jobs occupied in the county to start the year, according to BLS data. They paid an average of $510 a week in March 2021—$12.75 an hour for a standard 40-hour work week down 6% from March 2020.

Meanwhile, the cost of living in the area—and large swaths of the state—has skyrocketed, driven up by housing prices.

In May, the median rent for a two-bedroom unit in the county topped $2,000 per month, jumping up from $1,680 a year prior, according to data collected by the Blaine County Housing Authority. The median rate had steadily climbed over the past decade, more than doubling since 2013 when it was $941 for a two-bedroom. Based on federal Housing and Urban Development guidelines, someone would need to make $80,000 to cover the current median cost of a two-bedroom—well above the average wage and about 40% more than the county’s most recent calculated median household income.

For fiscal 2021, HUD’s estimated fair market rent for a Blaine County two-bedroom unit—that is, the 40th percentile of what the agency expects a property in the area to cost, including utilities—is $1,056, about half of what locals would likely have to pay.

With scant unemployment—and many jobs left open—it remains to be seen how wages will respond to the tight labor market. The Bureau of Labor statistics plans to release its Quarter 2 data in November.

Email the writer: mdee@mtexpress.com

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