Bottom Rung: Living On Low Wages In Idaho

Bottom Rung, Ladder
Credit Robert Couse-Baker / Flickr Creative Commons

The share of Idaho workers earning minimum wage has grown from 5 percent in 2011 to 7.7 percent in 2012. The growth has put Idaho in the top spot for the largest share of minimum wage workers in the country.

How did that happen? And what’s being done to reverse the trend?

Our series Bottom Rung will try to answer those questions, and introduce you to the people living on low wages and consuming Idaho services, and experts who monitor these trends.

Oregon could leapfrog Washington to have the highest state minimum wage in the country if the Democratically-controlled legislature approves a proposed increase.

Idaho Democrats predict more common ground than usual at the state Capitol this year. That’s because Idaho’s minority party leaders say many of the Republican proposals on the table are things Democrats have been pushing -- for years.

Democrats make up only 20 percent of Idaho’s Legislature. House Minority Leader John Rusche says they’re used to their bills not even being printed.

Five of Idaho's neighboring states will ring in the New Year with an increase in their minimum wage. Idaho, meanwhile, hasn't seen an increase in its minimum wage since 2009.

Idaho's wage is the federal minimum, $7.25 per hour.

Not only is Idaho nearly surrounded by states with a minimum wage above the federal baseline, but it's nearly surrounded by states with the highest minimum wages in the country.

The new year will mean higher pay for low-wage workers in Oregon and Washington. The minimum wage in both states is set for an increase.

money, wages
Molly Messick / Boise State Public Radio

Idaho voters won’t be making any new laws when they go to the polls in November. Efforts to get two initiatives on the ballot failed to get enough signatures by Wednesday’s deadline.

The people who wanted Idaho voters to legalize medical marijuana gathered 559 qualified signatures after a year of trying.

housing, map
National Low Income Housing Coalition

An Idaho worker earning the minimum wage would need to work 73 hours per week in order to afford a modest two-bedroom rental according to a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

fast food, kitchen, minimum wage
Gorgeoux / Flickr Creative Commons

Idaho’s share of minimum wage workers declined 0.6 percent from 2012 to 2013 according to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The drop means Idaho no longer has the largest share of minimum wage workers in the country; Tennessee has taken Idaho’s spot.

Whatever you already believed about raising the federal minimum wage, you now have more ammo for your argument, thanks to a report released Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Office, titled "The Effects of a Minimum-Wage Increase on Employment and Family Income."

Yes, you're right: Raising the wage in steps to $10.10 an hour by 2016 would push employers to cut jobs — about 500,000 of them, says the CBO, the nonpartisan research arm of Congress.

We’re hearing a lot these days about raising the minimum wage.

Michelle Stennett
Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

A plan to put more money in the pockets of Idaho's lowest-paid workers cleared its first hurdle Monday when the Senate State Affairs Committee voted to send it forward to a full hearing.

The proposal would increase the state's minimum hourly pay from $7.25 the federal requirement— to $8.50 July 1, then raise it again to $9.75 in 2015.

But Republicans who control 81 percent of the Legislature immediately criticized the plan, throwing its future into doubt.

money, wages
Molly Messick / Boise State Public Radio

A Democratic lawmaker will ask her fellow legislators to sign off on a plan to raise Idaho's minimum wage.

But majority Republicans have largely rejected efforts to hike the minimum wage, even as neighboring states' pay goes up.

Idaho's wage is currently aligned with the federal minimum of $7.25, and hasn't gone up since 2009.

The state currently has the highest number of workers earning the minimum wage in the U.S.

Sen. Michelle Stennett's proposal comes alongside a proposed voter initiative that seeks to raise pay to $9.80.

Washington’s minimum wage would rise to $12 per hour by 2017 under a proposal from Democrats in the state House.

money, wages
Molly Messick / Boise State Public Radio

The minimum wage goes up Wednesday in 13 states. Idaho isn’t one of them, but some of its neighbors are.

Washington and Oregon already have the first and second highest minimum wages in the country at $9.19 and $8.95 respectively. And, effective January 1, the lowest paid workers in Washington must get $9.32 an hour, and $9.10 in Oregon.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr Creative Commons

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said Monday he's against raising the nation’s minimum wage

During a conference call with reporters, Labrador said he understands why those pushing for pay increases for fast food and retail workers are doing so. But he thinks raising minimum wages will hurt workers instead of helping them.

ImahinasyonPhotography / Flickr Creative Commons

It costs more to get by in rural Idaho than it does in Boise, the state's population center. That's according to the Economic Policy Institute's family budget calculator.

A family of four living in Boise needs $56,491 per year. A family of four in rural Idaho needs $58,071.

Here's a comparison of what it costs for a family of four, two parents and two children, to live in four different parts of Idaho.

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