Guest Opinions

For working mothers and women, Idaho must not be a ‘scroll-down’ state

Idaho State Capitol
Idaho State Capitol Statesman file

Idaho is at the bottom of a national ranking again. The latest blow comes from WalletHub, which rates Idaho as the worst state for working mothers. Its ranking took into account numerous metrics, including day-care options, availability of pediatricians, education system and pay equity. This result is not an anomaly. Not long ago, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research rated Idaho 46 out of 51 for supporting working parents using similar metrics.

Idaho’s chronic failure to invest in its people has made us a “scroll-down state.” That is, when you look at rankings for different categories that measure a state’s health and prosperity, you must scroll down to find Idaho. We’re 49th in GDP per capita, 47th in doctors per capita, 47th in average teacher salary, 48th in per-pupil education spending and 48th on a 2018 list of “Best States for Higher Education.”

The key word when talking about issues like education and health care is “investment” — an outlay designed to pay future dividends. Well-educated, healthy Idahoans earn more and live happier, more productive lives. For all the talk of being “business-minded,” the party in charge doesn’t seem to get this. Paying teachers low wages, underfunding higher education, rejecting Medicaid expansion and refusing to consider early childhood education are all decisions that cost Idahoans lots of money.

Idaho is one of only six states that doesn’t invest in pre-K education, despite numerous studies showing dramatic returns to taxpayers in reduced remediation costs, higher literacy, increased graduation rates, higher lifetime earnings and reduced incarceration. For every dollar invested in pre-K, taxpayers save an estimated $7 to $17.

The Legislature continues to stonewall Medicaid expansion. Idaho has turned down billions of dollars to cover those living in poverty, many of whom are working parents. Idaho taxpayers are forced to pick up the tab for the uninsured who show up in emergency rooms while our federal tax dollars flow to other states like California and Ohio. By refusing to expand Medicaid, Idaho is giving up a fortune to other states, using local tax dollars to overpay for health care at home, and leaving tens of thousands of working Idahoans in the lurch.

Deep budget cuts to higher education from a decade ago still haven’t been reversed. Tuition continues to skyrocket. By not investing in postsecondary education, we are denying our workers access to thousands of higher-paying jobs that go unfilled every year. A report to the Legislature this year noted that Idaho left 7,000 high-paying STEM jobs unfilled in 2017 and $450 million in wages unclaimed (that’s about $51,000 an hour).

As a working mother of four, a state legislator and an Idahoan, the last thing I want to see is my state ranked at the bottom in the nation for working mothers. This should be a wake-up call that our current policies are hurting the working families we should be helping to succeed.

I’m sick of having to scroll down to find Idaho. Before you go, try “scrolling up” to the top of this article where “Idaho” is the first word. See how it feels.

Boise District 18 Rep. Ilana Rubel is the assistant Democratic leader in the Idaho House of Representatives.