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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?

Bottom Rung: The Politics Of Increasing Idaho’s Minimum Wage

Seth Harris
U.S. Department of Labor
Flickr Creative Commons

As in many states, Idaho’s minimum wage hasn’t changed since 2009, when the hourly minimum was boosted by the federal government.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found 31,000 hourly Idaho workers earned the minimum wage, $7.25, or less in 2012. That’s a 63 percent increase from 2011.

The data doesn’t tell us who these workers are, or where they live. We don’t know, for example, if the majority of those 31,000 minimum wage earners are teenagers working a part-time job, or middle-aged parents trying to support a family.

But back in February, President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union Address that he wants to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour. Since then, acting Labor Department Secretary Seth Harris has been campaigning to boost support for the idea.

Harris says raising the minimum wage will directly help workers earning it, but will also benefit the entire economy.

“Those workers will have more money in their pockets,” says Harris. “They will turn right around and spend that money in the local grocery store, the local gas station, at the local stationary store to buy school supplies for their kids, to pay rent and utilities. That, in turn, feeds the economy.”

But the proposal will be a tough sell to Idaho’s congressional delegation. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) doesn’t support increasing the federal minimum, despite voting for the 2007 legislation that increased the wage over three years.

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