When Lavell Robinson moved from Oregon to Idaho as a teenager in 2006, Oregons minimum wage was $7.50 an hour. Idahos was $5.15.
Today, Idahos minimum wage stands at $7.25 an hour 25 cents an hour shy of what Oregons minimum wage was seven years ago.
The challenge in that situation is paying for groceries and rent, especially if youre busy with school, says the 24-year-old senior at Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg.
Oregon, Washington and Montana increased their minimum wages this year. Oregons jumped to $8.95, Washingtons to $9.19 and Montanas to $7.80.
Idahos minimum wage has not changed since 2009. In 2011, about 19,000 of the 379,000 hourly workers in Idaho were paid minimum wage or less, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationwide, employees earning the federal minimum wage or less made up 5.2 percent of the hourly workforce.
Idaho adopted the federal minimum wage in 1991 and has stayed with it. Its legal for some workers, such as those earning tips, to make less than minimum in some states, including Idaho.
A low cost of living in parts of Idaho helps offset some of the strain of lower wages, says Will Jenson, regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor. That does make up, for some people, for lower wages than other states, he says.
EARNING MORE THAN THE MINIMUM
Student employees at BYU-Idaho make more than minimum wage. Kevin Price, human resources director, says the school pays more to maintain a higher standard of living.
Part of the idea of offering more money to students is to offset the costs of tuition, housing and the expenses associated with living here in Rexburg, Price says. We work as hard as we can to make the university as inexpensive as possible.
Many private-sector employees also find it necessary to pay good workers more than the minimum.
Ted Sermon, owner of Sermon Service and Electric in Idaho Falls, says the minimum wage can be used as a baseline to help an employer assign a value to an individuals work.
What it does is give more people the ability to work for what theyre capable of earning, he says. If you had to go hire four people and you had to pay them 10 bucks an hour versus $5 an hour, youd be more critical of those four people.
Sermon says he starts some younger employees at minimum wage, but they quickly climb the pay ladder if they do a good job.
I dont think people stay at minimum wage very long, (but) it gives a young person or a not skilled person the ability to enter a field and work their way up, he says.
PERKS OF MAKING MORE
Wyoming, at $5.15 an hour, is the only state bordering Idaho with less than the federal minimum.
As a state rich in natural resources and the high-paying jobs involved in extracting those resources, such as miners and well-drillers Wyoming is known throughout the region for paying competitive wages.
Some of that competition forces Idaho businesses to offer higher wages to keep workers around.
With a more and more mobile workforce, those laborers are going to go where the wage rates are the highest, Jenson says.
Paying workers just a little more also can save businesses money. Its a lot less expensive to pay an employee more and have a loyal employee stick with you than to churn employees, says Dale Dixon, CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the Snake River Region. Paying for training, etc., gets really expensive.
Good employees can be hard to find. You want these people to stay with you, and minimum wage wont keep them with you, Dixon says.
DRAWBACKS OF BOOSTING THE MINIMUM WAGE
If there was a sudden increase in minimum wage, it could be hard for some businesses to adjust, Jenson says. They can either raise the price of their product or reduce costs to stay in business.
Washington, which has the highest minimum in the nation, has felt some pain from paying workers more. Tying the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index 14 years ago wasnt as bad as business owners originally thought, but restaurants took hits as wages climbed, says Anthony Anton, president of the Washington Restaurant Association.
Not a huge rash of businesses closed, like was expected, he says. But almost every restaurant lost about three full-time employees.
In Washington, servers are paid the standard minimum wage of $9.19 an hour, plus tips. Anton says one result has been that the pay gap between veteran and novice servers began to shrink, as did the gap between servers and those in the back of the house, such as cooks.
Increasing the minimum wage also can cause workers to get fewer hours on the job.
For Robinson, making more than minimum wage has enabled him to follow his dream of getting into medical school.
Without (this job) and my scholarship, I couldnt finish in four years, he says.