July 23, 2008 in Idaho

Minimum wage in Idaho goes to $6.55 Thursday

An estimated 42,000 workers statewide can expect a raise
Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer
Kathy Plonka photo

“With the price of gas these days I think it’s really needed,” says Marcie Black, a server at Golden Dragon restaurant in Post Falls, of the new minimum wage.
(Full-size photo)

At a glance

Region’s minimum wages

Washington: $8.07

Idaho: $5.85; $6.55 as of Thursday

Montana: $6.25; $6.55 as of Thursday

Oregon: $7.97

BOISE – Forty-two thousand Idaho workers will get raises Thursday when the federal minimum wage increases to $6.55 per hour.

The change will affect 5,130 workers in the Panhandle and 2,800 in north-central Idaho. But the raise will help no one in Washington, where the $8.07-an-hour minimum wage – the highest in the nation – is well above the new federal level.

The average Idaho worker who will benefit from Thursday’s increase makes $6.20 an hour and will receive a 35-cent raise. Those making the current minimum of $5.85 an hour will see an increase of 70 cents, or 12 percent.

The cost to employers: $24 million a year.

Food service workers account for about 35 percent of the affected workers statewide, with 14 percent in retail.

However, Kathryn Tacke, regional economist for the state Department of Labor in North Idaho, said, “You’re not going to find very many people in Kootenai or Bonner County who are affected by this.”

Growth in jobs has outstripped growth in the labor force in those two counties, she said. “That’s put a lot of upward pressure on wages,” as has proximity to higher-paying Washington jobs.

The top occupation affected in Idaho is food servers, but tips also affect their wages. Idaho sets a minimum wage of $3.35 an hour for tipped employees, and requires employers to make up the difference between that and the regular minimum wage if tips don’t make it up.

Many North Idaho workers affected by the increase “are in rural communities, in places like fast-food operations, in hotels, in convenience stores and some other retail operations,” plus some clerical workers, Tacke said.

Idaho is one of 28 states whose minimum wage is below $6.55 an hour, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But the Gem State has tied its state minimum to the federal minimum, as have 18 other states. So as the federal minimum wage moves up in a three-phased increase, the Idaho minimum wage will match it.

When the first phase of that increase took effect a year ago, 20,000 Idaho workers got raises to $5.85 an hour.

Tacke said North Idaho will see a bigger impact with the third phase of the federal increase a year from now, pushing the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour.

“We do have a lot of things that start between $6.75 and $7.25 in our area – for retail operations, some fast food places, some convenience stores and child care,” she said.

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached toll-free at (866) 336-2854 or bzrussell@gmail.com. For more news from Boise, see spokesmanreview.com/boise.

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