Two-thirds of Idahoans can afford to live on what they make. The rest — people who care for our children, keep cars running and look after the sick — don’t make a living. They make choices: between child care and rent, or between paying car insurance and getting enough to eat.
In January, the United Way released a study of individuals and families for whom no amount of belt-tightening will secure a basic standard of living.
Their data show that more than one in five Idahoans are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed, or ALICE. ALICE takes us beyond the Federal Poverty Level — a measure of “deep” poverty — with a detailed account of wages and the cost of living in Idaho and a focus on what it takes to meet a livable household budget.
More than half the households of Clark, Madison and Owyhee counties and more than four in 10 households in Coeur d’Alene, Twin Falls, Pocatello and Nampa fall into the ALICE category. So do more than one in three families statewide.
This takes a toll on families, on their success and opportunity. Long commutes between affordable housing and employment congest and wear down roads. Children in these households require more expensive remedial and special education programs. Increasing reliance on state assistance and catastrophic health care programs leeches revenues that could improve public education, or modernize critical infrastructure.
Idaho Democrats understand that predictable increases in the minimum wage and providing low-income health coverage can help turn that tide.
Research from the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment confirms that pairing the two creates a “win-win” scenario for states and taxpayers: Health care coverage relieves counties from the cost of emergency care and tens of thousands of people from an expense they can scarcely afford.
By tying growth in the minimum wage to inflation, taxpayers save money and the economy grows. Estimates from the Economic Policy Institute show that a wage increase of $1.17 an hour among people earning near-minimum wages helps one million hardworking people leave government assistance.
The outcome is a more accountable, efficient use of tax dollars. That frees up resources for services Idaho really needs. In a period in our state’s history where more children than ever rely on property-tax levies to get an education, good management of our tax dollars is critical.
Health care coverage along with responsible increases in the minimum wage are excellent and well-vetted steps on a path to broader economic stability.
Idaho Democrats envision a state where financial security is in reach for everyone willing to work. These are small, reasonable steps toward that end.
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, is the Idaho House minority leader. He co-authored this piece with Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, assistant minority leader, and Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, minority caucus chair.
Links to sources
 ALICE, Pacific Northwest. http://www.unitedwayalice.org/documents/15UW%20ALICE%20Report_PNW_Lowres_1.12.16.pdf
 Rachel West and Michael Reich, “A Win-Win for Working Families and State Budgets.” http://www.irle.berkeley.edu/research/minimumwage/min-wage-medicaid-report.pdf
 “Raising Wages Would Significantly Reduce Reliance on Public Assistance.” http://www.epi.org/press/raising-wages-would-significantly-reduce-reliance-on-public-assistance/