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New report from Brookings says Boise adding jobs and wages are rising, but there are challenges

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The Brookings Institute issued its yearly Metro Monitor report this month – and it provides a trove of data on the health and direction on the Boise metro area.

Brookings, which BoiseDev readers will remember outlined some of the challenges the Boise area faces in a deep dive on the metro area last year, also tracks growth across 192 metro areas.

The report looks at the full Boise metro area, which with 730,426 people, sits in the think tank’s second-largest classification group.

The overall picture remains strong – but challenges in the poverty rate and worker productivity could cause concern.

[‘City at a crossroads:’ Brookings says Boise’s prosperity is fleeting, bold action needed]

Boise’s growing (you don’t say!)

US Overall Growth Index 2017-2018
Courtesy Brookings Institution
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Have you heard the news? Boise’s growing.

Brookings breaks its reports down in two time-frames, which helps provide a short and long-term view.

When you look at growth over a one-year time period (from 2017-2018), Boise ranks number three for growth in the large metro category. Only Wichita, Kansas and Orem-Provo, Utah grew faster in the timeframe.

But broadening out the lens to a ten-year horizon changes the picture a bit. Boise drops to 15th when considering growth in population from 2008-2018.

Along with growth in population comes growth in jobs. In the 1-year timeframe, Boise saw a 4.9% increase in jobs – well outpacing both the US average and similarly-sized cities.

Boise Jobs Trend - 2008-2018
Courtesy Brookings Institution

Over ten years, jobs in the Boise metro zoomed by a whopping 18.1%, according to Brookings.

The increase in population and employment increased the economic output of our region. In the 1-year timeframe, that number jumped 6.2%. That’s good for fourth place in the large-market segment. It also outpaced the US and peer city average. Only Ogden-Clearfield, UT, Orem-Provo, UT and Tolodo, OH saw bigger jumps in productivity.

[Analysis: Brookings report is a call to action for Boise’s future]

Boise lags in jobs at ‘young firms’

One challenge, which goes a bit against the grain of conventional wisdom, is the number of jobs at so-called “young firms.” Brookings classifies such a business as having been open less than five years.

Over ten years, Boise badly lags its peer cities in the metric – and actually saw a decline of 32.6%. That ranks the area 52nd among its peers – near the bottom. In simple words, that means Boise continues to see job growth – but primarily from older companies.

Boise Jobs at Young firms - 2008-2018
Courtesy Brookings Institution

The trend is starting to change, though. In the more narrow and recent timeframe, Boise saw improvement in the metric – swinging from a decline to an 8.5% increase. That starts to fit more in line with that aforementioned conventional wisdom – and puts Boise in the top third or so of cities in the large market segment.

[Boise home prices at records, no end in sight, apartment rents zooming – but cost of living still lower than average]

A separate report from Brookings noted that Boise ranks 14th for “digital services jobs” from 2010-2018, growing from 2,594 jobs to 4,456 jobs in 2018. While young firms can come from any industry (a new restaurant, a new local news site or a new tech company), jobs in tech remain sought after for their likelihood to offer good pay and increases in economic output.

Prosperity: Wages start to move, prosperity lags

Overall, wages in the Treasure Valley started climbing each year, starting in 2012. However, the wage growth lagged behind both the US and large metro averages. That changed in 2016, when Boise popped ahead of the large metro trend-line, and came right on par with the US average.

Average annual wage - 2008-2018
Courtesy Brookings Institution

In the past year, wages went up 1.6%. Over ten years, wages rose 9.8%

But, Boise’s standard of living echoes those warning signs Brookings wrote about last year. The Institute looks “output per person” – which essentially looks at the area’s total output divided by population. Boise ranks in the bottom half on this metric and sits well behind the US average, as well as the large metro area average. Over the past ten years, the standard of living went up just 3.8%. In recent years, this metric has seen improvement – with Boise moving into the top ten.

Boise output per person - 2008-2018
Courtesy Brookings Institution

Overall, the Boise area is the 33rd most prosperous large metro area in the country. The area continues to see more jobs. But many of those positions in the last decade trended toward the lower end of the scale in terms of the creation of dollars in the local economy (i.e.: call centers).

It dovetails with the trendline on jobs with those younger, often more dynamic firms. Replacing jobs at call centers with jobs at tech firms can help boost output and wages.

Poverty rate increasing

Another significant warning sign for the Boise area economy: The share of people earning less than half the median wage is increasing.

In fact, the Boise area ranks near the bottom of this ranking – 47th out of 56 large metro areas.

Boise Relative income poverty rate - 2008-2018
Courtesy Brookings Institution

What’s more concerning is a rapid large increase from 2017-20178, at a time when the overall rate for the US and peer cities declined. Boise saw that poverty rate jump 1.1%. It puts Boise in league with cities like El Paso, TX, Fayetteville, AR and Winston-Salem, NC.

Boise’s median earnings continue to fall behind the US and peer city averages. The median wage in the area stands at just more than $32,000

(A reminder that median is not the average – but rather the number at which half the people make more, and half the people make less).

Boise median earnings - 2008-2018
Courtesy Brookings Institution

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Don Day
Don is the founder and editor of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow.

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