Jessica Sherman could barely believe the question.
“I get a raise?” said Sherman, a clerk at the Texaco Gas Mart on Government Way when asked about her Labor Day bonus.
As of Monday, Sherman and about 52,000 other Idahoans are getting paid 40 cents more an hour, thanks to Congress and the Idaho Legislature raising minimum wage from $4.75 an hour to $5.15 an hour. Nearly 10 million people nationwide are on the receiving end of this good news.
“I think it’s wonderful, because the cost of living is going up every day and it’s hard to support yourself,” Sherman said. A full-time college student studying marine biology, Sherman also works nearly full-time to cover the absolute minimum - rent, car insurance and enough food for herself and her 1-1/2-year-old Husky mix, Sabrina.
“You never bring home enough,” she said. “You are always a step behind.”
Monday’s increase, opposed by several business lobbies, is the 25th raise since 1938, when the minimum wage was first set at 25 cents an hour. It brings annual earnings to $10,300 for full-time minimum-wage workers, well below the $15,600 that the federal government calls the poverty line for a family of four.
Most workers interviewed in North Idaho Monday welcomed the increase, but agreed it isn’t enough.
“It makes the job more relaxing,” said Shaun Altman, a cook at Zip’s Restaurant, during a pre-burger-shift hackey sack game. “The people around you are at ease more because they don’t have to worry about their bills as much.”
But if Altman was setting the standard, it would be closer to $6 an hour. Gasoline is more expensive, rent is going up, groceries also are high, he said.
The increase would benefit employer and employee alike. “People would work harder and pay more attention to what’s going on,” Altman said.
Business “would have more customers because the businesses would be running a lot smoother.”
Hans Courrier, a groundskeeper for area businesses, won’t feel the benefits of the minimum wage bump. He’s paid by the month.
Still, he supports the increase.
As does Burnice Hauser, a clerk at a quick-stop service station and store.
“Even at $5.15, it’s not enough to make a living,” Hauser said. “I have to work two jobs, and I make more than minimum wage.”
In Hauser’s eyes, minimum wage is good for teenagers who are doing entry-level work at something like a fast food restaurant. But it’s not appropriate across the board.
Instead of approaching pay as something minimum, Hauser suggests looking at what the person does.
“You should be paid according to the skills you bring to the job, the accountability in that job, the number of years in that job … the trust put in you,” she said.