Articles written by Eric Dietrich

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  • Montana's housing puzzle at the legislative halftime

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Mar 16, 2023

    Lawmakers have advanced several bills aimed at making at least a dent in the challenges facing renters and aspiring homebuyers. Here’s where things stand as of early March There’s broad bipartisan agreement in the Montana Capitol that rising housing costs, driven by the state’s finite supply of homes and rapid in-migration from other states, rank among the most pressing issues facing Montana residents. According to real estate website Zillow, the typical home price in Montana was $430,000 in January, a slight dip from last summer, but an incre... Full story

  • California and Washington top origin states for new Montana residents in 2020

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Mar 31, 2022

    California, Washington and Colorado are the top states of origin for people who moved to Montana in 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to tax filing data presented to a legislative interim committee this week. The study, produced by the Legislative Fiscal Division in an effort to understand how migration patterns will affect the state's long-term tax revenues, provides some of the first-available hard data on pandemic-era migration trends. Widespread anecdotal evidence... Full story

  • Feds release data on Paycheck Protection loan recipients

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Jul 16, 2020

    Tens of thousands of businesses and nonprofit organizations across Montana have benefited from the Paycheck Protection Program, a massive federal effort that has routed billions of dollars into subsidized bank loans intended to help small businesses keep workers on payroll during the economic disruption prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. Data released this week by the U.S. Small Business Administration provides the first detailed accounting of the businesses aided by the program, indicating...

  • Montana property taxes keep rising - Who shoulders the heaviest loads?

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|May 21, 2020

    HELENA - Just how hard do Montana cities, counties and school districts lean on residential property taxes to fund government services? Figures presented to lawmakers last month indicate the answer varies widely across different parts of the state, ranging from as low as $125 annually per capita in McCone County to as high as $15,794 per capita in Madison County. The data was presented Jan. 13 by legislative researcher Megan Moore to a group of lawmakers and tax policy experts conducting an ongo...

  • How, where and why Montana became the grayest state in the West

    Eric Dietrich and Brad Tyer, Montana Free Press|Mar 12, 2020

    People have been parsing the human lifespan into a taxonomy of ages forever. Aristotle proposed three categories: youthful, prime of life and elderly. Two thousand years later, Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man carved human chronology into seven slices, with the body's final frailty circling back to the original oblivion of infancy. And in the 1980's, British historian Peter Laslett proposed a revised map of three ages, with a caveat for the third: it could be a time of post-retirement...

  • Student enrollment up statewide, dwindling numbers threaten to squeeze rural schools

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Oct 10, 2019

    HELENA - Like rural school administrators across Montana, Terry Public Schools Superintendent Joe Krause keeps a close eye on his enrollment numbers. The Terry District, which serves Prairie County, population 1,100, has 134 students this school year, said Krause, who's new to the superintendent job this year. Only 31 are high schoolers. Last year, Terry's high school was forced to team up with neighboring Glendive to field a football team through a co-op arrangement. Excluding foreign exchange...

  • Montana is the oldest state in the West. Demographics tell the tale

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Sep 26, 2019

    HELENA - Montana is, in fact, a country for old men, and women too, according to demographic statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, which indicate that based on median age, Montana holds the distinction of grayest state in the west. And certain stretches of the state - including many but not all rural counties - have considerably older residents than Montana as a whole. That state of demographic affairs has wide-ranging implications for regional economies, education systems, and health-care...

  • UM economists try to explain why housing prices are up across Montana

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Feb 7, 2019

    HELENA - Housing costs have risen across Montana in recent decades, to the point where residents are feeling the pinch between wages and their rent or mortgage payments, say economists with the Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research. The unanswered question is: why? "Housing the people is one of the most basic services, one of the most basic things we can expect our economy to provide," BBER Director Patrick Barkey told a crowd in Helena in a Jan. 29 presentation delivered as part of...

  • Does remote work bring Montana workers big-city wages? Yes – for some

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Dec 27, 2018

    On the list of ideas for tackling the twin challenges that plague Montana workers - scarce rural jobs and low wages even in cities - telework is close to the top. As better internet access connects even far-flung rural communities with the rest of the world, it seems to promise Montanans a way to have their cake and eat it too: a fulfilling career at a city wage without having to leave the Last Best Place. The notion has been embraced by business leaders and officeholders across the state, most...

  • Peer Support, Increasingly Professionalized, Helps Struggling Montanans Reclaim Their Lives

    Eric Dietrich, Solutions Journalism Network|Jul 26, 2018

    There's some hope around a folding table here, inside this smallish Main Street storefront in Ronan, the Never Alone Recovery Center. Outside, it's a sunny Tuesday evening in this 2,000-person, majority-white town on the Flathead Indian Reservation. Inside, a mixed-race group of men and women, passing around a bowl of candy, shoot the breeze for a few minutes before settling down to business. "I'm an addict," each says in turn. "I'm an addict," echoes the group's leader, Don Roberts - and, he...

  • What is the Strategy?

    Katheryn Houghton and Eric Dietrich, Bozeman Daily Chronicle and Solutions Journalism Network|Jul 26, 2018

    Previously: In Part 1, the story of a mentally ill Livingston woman, "Sarah," underscored the challenges Montana's mental health system faces as community-level providers are rocked by political battles over public spending. In Part 2, we looked at how two of Montana's most recent budget fights have swung the state toward more health spending - and away from it again. Now: Given budget realities, does Montana have a plan for getting mentally ill citizens the care they need? Montana Department of...

  • Chasing the Curve, Part 2 - The Budget Roller Coaster

    Katheryn Houghton and Eric Dietrich, Bozeman Daily Chronicle and Solutions Journalism Network|Jul 19, 2018

    Previously: The story of a mentally ill Livingston woman, "Sarah," underscored the challenges Montana's mental health system faces as community-level providers are rocked by political battles over public spending. Now: How two of Montana's most recent budget fights have swung the state toward more health spending - and away from it again. A pair of sweeping changes have rocked Montana's healthcare system, including mental health services, over the past two-and-a-half years - first state-level...

  • What Happened to Sarah?

    Katheryn Houghton and Eric Dietrich, Bozeman Daily Chronicle and Solutions Journalism Network|Jul 12, 2018

    Sarah sat in her Livingston home with the front door locked and her eyes closed, picturing the path to Gallatin Mental Health Center in Bozeman for day treatment. It's 26 miles, across a pass, with strangers at the end of the trip - too far, for someone who struggled to imagine walking around the block. Her dark hair faded with grey lines, Sarah has dissociative disorder. That means she lives with episodes that steal reality, creating people who aren't there and stalling her sense of time. "I'm...

  • Why Some Young Professionals Settle in Small-town Montana

    Eric Dietrich|Mar 8, 2018

    For much of rural Montana, brain drain has been a fact of life for decades. Come high school graduation, the pattern goes, small towns see their most ambitious sons and daughters pack their bags, heading off to attend college or otherwise try out life somewhere else. And comparatively few of them ultimately come back. Take Anaconda, population 9,000, a former company town abandoned by its founding industry in the 80s. These days it faces a demographic gap, with only 22 percent of its residents...

  • Tourism Gives Philipsburg New Life - Brought Few Families

    Eric Dietrich|Feb 15, 2018

    PHILIPSBURG - As the holiday season gets its start on a clear morning in late November, Main Street here looks like something out of a Hallmark movie. A window washer cleans down storefronts along blocks of historic brick buildings - a candy store, a microbrewery, coffee shops, restaurants, antique stores. Wreaths hang off ornate light posts. The surrounding hills are scattered with snow. Banners hung from windows and balconies celebrate the high school football team the Titans which has won a...