Playground Missoula

by William Skink

The sharper the focus gets on housing and wages in Missoula, the more Missoula looks like a uniquely terrible place to relocate hundreds of refugees. Will this reality ever be acknowledged by the do-gooders? Doubtful.

The latest economic peek into Missoula offers some stark numbers on how quickly the cost of housing has risen in the last two and a half decade:

Since 1990, Missoula’s population has grown 142 percent, or 1.5 times the U.S. population growth rate. To Ward, that proves that Missoula provides a high quality of living, one that’s been noted in many national studies and magazine articles.

Using 1990 as a benchmark, Ward said housing prices in Missoula have risen 114 percent when adjusted for inflation. That makes the city the third fastest growing metro area in the nation when it comes housing costs, outpacing the likes of Seattle, Portland and San Francisco.

With mountains constraining sprawl, and the natural beauty blipping like a beacon to deep pockets, Missoula is booming, for some. For everyone else trying to get by in playground Missoula, it’s getting more difficult every year as housing goes up and up and up. Here’s another little tidbit from the article:

According to data presented Tuesday, a Missoula resident holding a bachelor’s degree makes on average $31,189 a year. The national average is $50,515.

“If you have a bachelor’s degree only in Missoula, you earn 63 percent of the U.S. level,” Ward said. “In the average metro area, someone with a bachelor’s degree earns 60 percent more than someone with a high school degree. In Missoula, you earn 23 percent more.”

If the problem goes unresolved, Ward cautioned, the city will continue to see its college graduates leave for opportunities elsewhere. That has implications for economic growth, hurting the city in terms of business recruitment and retention.

“You just end up as a recreation community – a place where people come who already have money, and there’s a bunch of people who do service industry jobs to serve them,” Ward said. “That has implications for what it is we’re trying to do in our community, or what we can do in our community.”

Yep, sounds about right. I have my bachelor’s degree, and my last job didn’t even bring in Missoula’s shitty average of $31,189, and the jobs I have so far applied for also track below that average.

I don’t see how Missoula can become anything other than a recreation community where people come who already have money. There is no incentive for employers to bump up wages because people are willing to settle for less pay in order to live here. Those who aren’t willing, like pretty much everyone I knew in college, will move away because they can’t afford to stay. This is increasingly seen as problematic, so what kind of solutions does the article recommend?

On the housing front, Grunke added, “It’s one thing to attract workers here, but we have to have a place where they can actually live.”

To explore the issue further, Grunke said, MEP will launch two major studies in the coming months, one to look at the city’s available workforce and another to look at housing. BBER also plans to follow with a more in-depth report in January that includes possible solutions to the city’s lagging wages.

Wow, not just one study, but TWO MAJOR STUDIES will be coming in the next few months. I know Missoula loves to study things, and then study them some more, but at some point there needs to be some GODDAMN ACTION to actually implement the findings of these studies.

We have studied homelessness and come up with a ten year plan that is currently stalled on the key recommendation of wet housing. We have studied jail overcrowding and maybe something will happen at the next legislative session. Lots of stuff gets studied, but does anything ever change? Or do the trends just keep trending?

People on fixed income, people with barriers to housing–like bad credit or a criminal conviction–they will keep getting squeezed and squeezed until they get the hint and go somewhere else, if they can. Then another study will be launched to explore why people leave. And what will happen then?

Nothing. My hunch is that change will have to come from some kind of significant, external disruption, like another economic collapse. And that kind of change might be closer than many realize.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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1 Response to Playground Missoula

  1. steve kelly says:

    Administration positions at UM don’t seem to have those worries.

    Amazing when you think of how disconnected performance is with pay in this sector. Cronyism, like most unreported crime, does pay, and pays well in good times and bad. Little wonder there’s not much left over for middle and lower income residents.

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