New York Times Chronicles Idaho's Minimum Wage Dilemma


The rest of the nation is reading today about something that many Idahoans know all too well—that while they love living in the Gem State, its wages make it difficult for them to make ends meet.

In a story called "Cross Borders and Changing Lives," this morning's New York Times chronicles the dilemma of a number of Idahoans, dubbed "minimum-wage migrants" who travel from their homes in Idaho, where the minimum wage is $7.25, to work in Oregon, where it is the second highest in the country, $9.10. "Similar migrations unfold every day in other parts of Idaho—at the border with Washington, which has the highest state minimum, $9.32, and into Nevada, where the minimum rate tops out at $8.25," reports The Times.

But chasing a higher minimum wage also comes at a price, reports TheTimes, which followed Carly Lynch from her Idaho home to her job as a waitress at an Ontario, Ore., bar. The bar owners told Lynch that she would have to work harder than before for the higher minimum wage, going on to argue that higher labor costs meant they would be getting rid of their dishwasher. Additionally, the waitresses have to cover more tables at a time, according to the owners.

Meanwhile, Ketchum Democratic Sen. Michelle Stennett has introduced a bill to the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee that would see Idaho's current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour increase to $8.50 by July of this year and $9.75 in July 2015, with incremental increases tied to the U.S. government's consumer price index. Gradual increases are also being proposed for seasonal employees and workers who depend on tips.

And while Senate Majority Leader Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, agreed to move forward with the full hearing, he did give some indication of where the debate was heading.

"I was here in 2007 when we coupled Idaho's minimum wage to the federal minimum wage," said Davis. "Since then, Idahoans have received $2.10 in increases that they otherwise would not have received during a very difficult recession. I'm troubled that we now want to decouple us from the federal wage standard. Idaho needs to be very careful any time it wants to decouple itself, and many of us worked very hard to couple us to that standard. I throw that out for public consideration as this debate goes forward."