The following article is fourth in a series of issues that will be debated in the Montana Legislature and US Congress. See more articles at Facebook.com/BennettforMontana.
I’ve heard it said that Montana is a great place to grow up, a great place to retire, but a hard place to work. I found this a strikingly true statement while researching this article.
Compared to the rest of the country, we have a remarkably good employment rate, with only 5.2 percent of Montanans “unemployed,” versus the national average of 6.7 percent. This puts us as the 12th lowest unemployment rate in the nation. But, of the 1 million people in the state, we offer only 448,500 jobs (US Department of Labor).
The average wage in Montana sits at $34,389.
If you want a good job, our largest employer is defined as “government,” taking a 19.9 percent bite of the workforce. According to a 2009 report by the Montana Bureau of Labor and Industry, State jobs pay 33 percent more than private jobs, and the Feds pay 79.5 percent more than the average Joe.
But, not to worry, government jobs are only projected to increase by a mere 0.6 percent in the next seven years, while private industry grows at a clip of 1.5 percent. The largest growth industry projected through 2020 will be in construction, with an overall growth rate of 3.1 percent (Montana BLI). Granted, it is still reeling from the losses of the last 10 years, but it will be coming back...
The most striking statistic that I found was average pay versus education. The Montana Career Guide shows that an high school graduate will earn, on average, 69 percent more than someone who drops out of school. The holder of an associates degree will make 12 percent more than a worker with a High School Diploma, where a Bachelors Degree will net you over 55 percent more pay.
It’s a pretty clear correlation. Education equals money. But not everyone is destined for college. And how can “politicians” make this better?
First, we help every person graduate from high school. Does this mean more money flowing from the legislature? In some cases, yes. In others, no. As I mentioned in a previous article, everybody learns differently, so there needs to be a variety of schools available to our states students. Traditional, magnet, charter, and online schools could massively help the situation. But, Helena (and DC) must also allow school districts the flexibility to create and maintain their own educational needs.
After we get our diploma, we have a host of opportunities for higher education. According to the 2012 Montana Career Guide, we have 13 universities, 14 junior colleges and technical institutes, and 27 specialized trade schools in the state. I think the legislature should investigate the availability of education in the Montana University System (MUS) and how to slow or cap exploding administrative costs.
In the past 10 years at Montana State University (my alma mater), enrollment is up 25 percent, legislative assistance is up 50 percent, and yet tuition has doubled. Why? I believe that administrative costs are exploding budgets.
But, all-in-all, higher education in Montana is still at a reasonable cost (especially compared to other states), and the investment will pay off exponentially over ones employed life.
Employment will always be a hot topic in politics. In my opinion, it is not the governments role to create jobs. It is the governments role to get out of the way of job creators, facilitating a positive economic and tax climate where employers want to add employees.
What the government is in the business of is education. If legislators wish to create more, better paying jobs (as most of their campaign literature suggest), they should concentrate on education. Schools are the key! And education should be more than adequate.
If we could improve education, we increase labor force participation and wages. It’s almost a no brainer!
William Bennett is a husband, dad, and fifth generation Montanan. An airline captain and former candidate for the Montana House of Representatives, he lives in Belgrade, Mt. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Facebook.com/bennettformontana.