To me at least, Zach Kyle’s March 5 article decrying the lack of well-paying jobs to retain Idaho graduates is old news, and its sought-after resolution is unlikely to serve us well. It’s an old “problem” which persists to the ultimate good of Idaho.
I moved here to teach economics in 1969, part of the group of new faculty hired by the new Boise State College. In those days college teaching jobs were easy to come by nationwide, regardless of degree status, and Idaho salaries were considerably below what could be earned elsewhere. I chose to come here because I wanted to live in the great outdoors of the Mountain West and knowingly accepted a position for about 30 percent less than I could have gotten staying almost anywhere in Ohio or the Midwest. And I have never regretted it.
At the only other serious job interview I considered, the department chairman at Montana told me to look out the window of his office into the mountains, saying “if that view isn’t worth $5,000 to you, then we have little more to talk about.” I believed him then, and now.
When it was time for my own kids to go to college, I advised only that they not remain in Boise. I certainly had nothing against Boise State, but believed strongly that much of the college experience comes with living in a different environment and being away from parental influence. I would have been perfectly happy had they chosen to stay withinIdaho. Despite certain access to scholarships at the University of Idaho, they chose to look out of state.
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They, like many other sensible Idaho high school graduates, didn’t choose their college based only on job prospects and comparative wages. They were aware that Boise and Idaho are still relatively small and very conservative places. They felt they needed to get out and “see the world” a bit. That is not irrational, and the presence of good job opportunities and wages in Idaho would not have mattered. They still have a fondness for Idaho, and it still might be a place to which they return.
Idaho has always attracted a certain kind of person who appreciates the quality of life here despite our relatively low wages. When I was involved in hiring decisions, I insisted that we advertise outside Idaho, knowing that there were well-qualified people willing to relocate to Boise despite our relatively low wages. The standard procedure often was to stay in-house for hires, under the mistaken belief that Idaho salaries were not sufficient to attract outside talent.
There is no denying that Idaho wages are relatively low and Idaho job opportunities are relatively limited. But Idaho has muddled through adequately despite those perceived handicaps. Kyle’s statistics document an ebb and flow of talent both out of and into Idaho, which means we are not merely exporting talent.
I fear that the ability to offer attractive jobs at comparable wages might flood our small market and lead to a decline in our existing quality of life. Those who think we can have our cake and eat it, too, are dreaming.
Bill Eastlake is a former Assistant Professor of Economics, BSU; former Energy Economist, IDWR and former Energy Policy Adviser, IPUC.