Employee compensation committee reviews staffing woes, wage changes

The Change in Employee Compensation Committee met Jan. 12 to hear recommendations on employee compensation. Christine Otto, a budget analyst of the Legislative Services Office, gave a presentation to the committee. (Photo by Idaho Reports)

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

The Change in Employee Compensation Committee met Wednesday to review the governor’s proposed changes to employee compensation, outlining needed staffing.

Gov. Brad Little’s proposal includes a 2% salary adjustment for state employees and a 3% merit increase for employees. Little also recommended maintaining the current benefits package. 

The state of Idaho employs more than 16,500 people, plus another 8,000 people through state higher education. 

Lori Wolff, administrator for the Division of Human Resources, outlined the competitive job market in Idaho and the rest of the country to the committee on Wednesday. The Department of Labor reported in November that there are more than 27,000 people looking for jobs in Idaho, but 55,000 job postings. 

Even if every job seeker was employed, there would still be tens of thousands of vacancies, Wolff noted. 

The state currently has nearly 2,600 unfilled positions and a 12% vacancy rate, which is a 5% increase from the prior year. 

Most of the workforce that left during the pandemic were people aged 55 and older who retired, workers who are now staying home – often due to a lack of childcare. Wolff said the rapid increase in housing costs, which does not match the increase in wages, also contributed to more people leaving state employment. 

For the fifth year in a row, Idaho has been the fastest growing state in the country, Wolff said. Wolff said more than half of the state’s employees make less than $25 an hour, and roughly 80% of employees cannot afford to spend more than $1,500 a month for rent or mortgage. Cheaper accommodations are harder to find, especially if you need a three-bedroom home, she said.

Wolff said private sector wages are competitive, noting Amazon is now paying its employees the same wage as a starting state social worker. State social workers must have a bachelor’s degree and be licensed.

She stressed that with inflation, wages can never be dropped back to what they were before the pandemic. With current retirements, more of the workforce will be Millennials and workers from Gen Z. 

She said those generations communicate quickly and effectively, are open to telework, and they are not yet as motivated by retirement and health care packages. 

“The pandemic proved that we can be successful at work from home,” she said. 

The state also pays less than other public employers, such as cities and counties.

A survey conducted by Milliman found that a parks and recreation manager, for example, makes 26% less at the state than he or she could elsewhere. A software engineer makes 28% less than he or she could outside state employment. 

Wolff said she anticipates legislation coming that would allow state agencies some flexibility in personnel appropriations. That flexibility would allow for unexpected personnel costs and to address internal equity and compression issues. 

Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, made a motion to accept the governor’s recommendations during Wolff’s presentation, but did not receive a second from the committee, so the motion failed.

Following additional presentations, the committee did not take action. The next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 19. 

Editor’s note: Idaho Reports employees are employees of Idaho Public Television and the State of Idaho.

<strong>Ruth Brown</strong> | Producer
Ruth Brown | Producer

Ruth Brown grew up in South Dakota and her first job out of college was covering the South Dakota Legislature. She’s since moved on to Idaho lawmakers. Brown spent 10 years working in print journalism, including newspapers such as the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Press, where she’s covered everything from the correctional system to health care issues. She joined Idaho Reports in 2021 and looks forward to telling stories about how state policy can impact the lives of regular Idahoans.

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