It’s hard to watch Idaho’s minimum wage employees at work.
A frustrating day at a clothing store, nasty customers at the ice cream shop and too many jerks complaining about snack costs at the movie theater is only worse when you think about the measley $7.25 that’s going into that stressed-out worker’s pocket.
In Moscow, many of those workers are college students, doing anything to make ends meet. Others are there supporting their families, whether that is what minimum wage was meant for or not.
Who they are really isn’t important.
Anyone living off Idaho’s federal minimum wage is scraping by and has to be flirting with the poverty line if they aren’t already looking way up at it.
We believe in developing skills, getting an education and earning your keep but Idaho’s minimum wage just isn’t enough. It hasn’t been for years.
Ten years ago, the federal wage bump forced Idaho to a $7.25 minimum wage in 2009, a 70-cent baby step up from $6.55. The last time the state raised the minimum wage for Idahoans on its own was in 2007, up from the $5.15 it sat at since 1997, to $6.55.
Right now, if you worked 40 hours in a standard work week at $7.25 that’s $290, or $15,080 annually. That’s strapped. An average $500 one-bedroom rental will suck that down about $6,000. And what if life happens?
Not to mention, the wage calculator by Amy K. Glasmeier of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found the living wage for Idaho to be $10.39 back in 2017.
A lot of minimum wage opponents claim there would be adverse impacts on employers and the economy from a minimum wage hike. The other side, of course, says the opposite.
Michael Reich, professor of economics at the University of California-Berkeley and co-chair of the university’s Center on Wage Employment told the Idaho Press, minimum wage increases actually reduce turnover costs for employers, create more spending and reduce poverty.
Currently, that’s what a citizen group is trying to accomplish.
The group is launching an initiative to raise the state’s wage from $7.25 to $12 over four years. It would raise Idaho's minimum wage to $8.75 initially, then a little more than a dollar each year until the minimum wage is $12.
To get the initiative on the November 2020 ballot, the group, Idahoans for a Fair Wage, needs to gather a little more than 55,000 signatures statewide, qualify 18 of 35 legislative districts and receive 6 percent of registered voters.
It’s no easy feat. We question if the group’s wage step increases are too large in too short of time but we know Idaho should pay all of its workers a fair and livable wage - that’s more than $7.25.
We also know, if left up to the Idaho Legislature, it’s likely not going to happen.