Economists predict Montana's population will continue growing

The Department of Commerce estimates Montana is growing by 10,000 people a year, with the state population nearing 1.1 million by 2020.

The US Census estimates Montana's livable wage is $47,000 a year.

Someone earning our state's minimum wage and working fulltime does not clear $17,000 a year.

Gary Young is training to be a wildland firefighter, and must stay at a homeless shelter to save enough money for training, and also to get custody of his 9-month-old son, which requires he gets a two bedroom apartment.

"I have to pay for those classes, which can run up to $400. I am looking for a job now to pay for those classes, and to build up enough money so I can get back with my son and get back on track," said Young.

Like many, Gary can't find work that pays monthly bills.

The Poverello Center in Missoula believes Montana's population increase is one reason it's seeing a 30% increase in residents.

Amy Allison Thompson is the Executive Director at the Poverello Center.

"I think that absolutely is a factor we are seeing here. We are seeing an increase in all areas: with veterans, families and individuals. A lot of the people we work with are looking for jobs. There is a lot of difficulty in finding jobs. We see our folks who are going in for interviews. They are working really hard. It is really hard to find a job despite their best efforts. So, they are competing against people potentially coming in from out of state for apartments and housing," said Allison Thompson.

Despite the difficulties, economists say an increase in population also brings overall improvements.

"It means the economy has the capacity to create new and more interesting jobs. You have a better chance to match to a job that you really like," said Bryce Ward, the Bureau of Business and Economic Research Associate Director.

Economists say people of all economic levels are moving into Montana.

"It's not that you just see a bunch of old, rich people. You see people with high school degrees. You see people with some college," said Ward.

Economists warn, even if the state adopted strict growth regulations, people will still keep moving here at high rates.

"If you do keep it in a certain range of affordability, you just have to understand that people are still just going to come. We can fight it in certain ways. We can try to steer it in certain ways, but a lot of this is outside our control. People are moving to Montana across the income spectrum because Montana offers a nice place to live," said Ward.

Even though the competition for good paying jobs can be stiff, it's not deterring native Montanans like Gary.

"My goal is to be an EMT, and plus, I will be going to school," said Young.

Lawmakers say Montana does not have restrictive growth policies in place.

This is often left to individual communities.

Bozeman is currently developing a 30-year strategic growth plan.

Residents can attend a public hearing on it February 26th.

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