I first came to Idaho in 1997 as a rookie economist. It was love at first sight; the mix of agriculture and technology, rural and urban, the natural beauty, and all the things I love to do: skiing, biking and hiking. Indeed, when days get hard my mantra is, ‘I’m packing up and moving to Idaho.’
When I became president of the Federal Reserve Bank that represents Idaho in October, it seemed completely natural I would come to the Gem State for my first major speech on the economy and monetary policy. Not only is it a state that I love, it’s also a place rich in the kind of economic information that is critical to my new role as president of the Federal Reserve’s 12th District, representing Idaho and eight other Western states.
It’s important for people to understand that Congress has given the Federal Reserve two goals: to help ensure that everyone who wants a job can get one and that the money in your wallet retains its value. In Fed Speak, we call this the dual mandate of maximum employment and price stability. But to Idahoans and everyone else, our goal is simply to keep the overall economy healthy and step in if and when it falters.
Two months ago I visited Idaho Falls and Boise, and I had the privilege of meeting with dozens of Idahoans — nonprofit and community leaders, academics, students, businesspeople, and private citizens — to talk about what’s happening in their local economies. Hearing this local perspective is important, because it ensures that when I go to Washington D.C. to discuss monetary policy, I have the ground-level information that allows me to put the economic data — information on jobs, wages, and financial markets, among other indicators — in context.
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The data I’m seeing for Idaho is solid. Job growth has been strong, which has allowed Idaho to have one of the country’s lowest unemployment rates.
All of this was backed up by what I heard during my visit. I learned about the difficulty some businesses were having finding skilled workers.
But while the national and Idaho economies are flourishing, we know that some people are getting left behind. For example, I visited a nonprofit in Boise and heard firsthand about the increasing cost of living there. I also learned that more than four in ten of Boise’s school children qualify for free or reduced lunch.
During my trip to Boise State University, I heard a mixture of optimism about students’ future job prospects mixed with concerns about paying off student loans. It should be comforting to these students to know that local business operators share their concerns and are actively working on solutions to help keep the economy strong and lessen the burden of student debt.
During a business roundtable meeting I attended with the Idaho Business for Education organization, one person I spoke to suggested deepening partnerships between the state’s great universities and local businesses by encouraging the use of college savings accounts as an employee benefit.
Listening to information coming from my visits, understanding what residents are experiencing and how this informs their decisions, helps me better understand what is happening to our region — sometimes even before it shows up in the data.
Idaho has a lot to be proud of. The kind of partnership and dialogue between the public and private sectors that I witnessed during my visit shows great promise. Let’s keep it going.
Mary Daly is president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.