Economy: Graduates Leave Idaho

by Judy Ferro

“More than half of the graduates from Idaho’s universities leave the state within four years of receiving their degrees,” according to a recent Idaho Statesman article by Kyle Green.

Half. Within four years.

That isn’t the worst news I’ve read this week.

SB 1339, passed by both the Idaho House and Senate, authorizes the Department of Lands to force Idahoans to allow oil drilling on their property if any landowner in the “spacing unit” applies for “forced integration.” This can occur even if the person owns both the surface and mineral rights on their property.

As bad as this is, however, the outward migration of young people bothers me more.

To be honest, I know nothing about the drilling of oil wells other than diesel smells bad. I’m not sure Land Board officials—who answered questions about property rights with a list of possible fences for screening—understands much more.

But I like imagining what Idaho would be like if we had double the number of educated and enterprising young people.

If nothing else, politicians and pundits would have to stop blaming Idaho’s poor wages on an uneducated labor force or bad schools.

In the best case sscenario, a growing number of Idaho enterprises would be offering entry level jobs with opportunities for advancement. Imagine if other Idaho industries developing hundreds of small operations around the state like gun and bullet manuracturing is.

And I think of Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, paying all of his workers $70,000 or more each year. His 120 employees manage transfers for credit card payments—largely through long-distrance computer transactions.

Price became interested in the field while a Boise student. What if he’d built his business here? How many businesses built by other Idaho kids have benefitted folks elsewhere?

This isn’t a new problem. My senior year at Caldwell High, a man from the Employment Office explained job prospects in Canyon County. My memory is that he predicted there would be 14 openings in the next ten years—ten barbers and four boys’ PE teachers.

And that was before the Beetles made long hair fashionable.

Of course, the prediction was wrong. Food processing expanded, and trailer and construction of the Interstate and dams offered many new jobs. Still, there were enough of us in Seattle to joke that we should hire a bus for our 10-year reunion.

Wages became a greater problem as student loans grew. If an Idaho job couldn’t support a graduate and loan payments, he or she had to look for a better paying job elsewhere.

Green’s article, however, points out a third reason educated young people are leaving Idaho. He quotes graduate Jillian Moroney as saying:

“It’s frustrating that the Legislature always questions why people leave, but then they ruin things we care about: higher education, women’s rights, a living wage, affordable health care, LGBT rights, the environment. That’s a hostile environment to come in as a young person if you want to see change.”

Idaho is in a cycle. Young people leave because they want to see progressive change—and Idaho doesn’t progress because the young people leave. I’m sure some legislators want to see more young people stay in the state. I suspect others are secretly relieved that milennials are taking their ideas elsewhere.

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