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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?

Son Of Former McDonald's Worker, Raul Labrador Opposes Minimum Wage Increase

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.

“You have people at entry level jobs that need to acquire the skills that are necessary so they can move up the food chain,” he says. “And if you make it more difficult for people to hire them at minimum wage, it’s impossible for them to actually gain those jobs and gain the experience they need so they can make more money in the future.”

Supporters of an increased minimum wage held rallies across the country last week to raise awareness of the issue.  Supporters say higher pay will help improve workers’ quality of life. Opponents, like Labrador, say it will lead to job losses.

For Labrador, it's a personal issue. He was raised by a single mom who worked for a period in the fast food industry.

“My mom worked at McDonald’s,” he says. “And she decided she wanted to make more money, so she got into the management program at McDonald’s. And that’s how you move up the chain. It’s not by demanding that minimum wage is raised, it’s by actually acquiring the skills. That’s the way that people get ahead in life.”

Labrador predicts that if the minimum wage increases, fewer teenagers and other young workers will have the opportunity to work.  Minimum wage in Idaho is $7.25 an hour - the level required by federal law.  Labrador says businesses will find ways to avoid paying an increased minimum wage.

“[Companies] are gonna find a way to do more with less workers,” he says. “So I think you will see an explosion of unemployment. Especially if you do it like some of these unions are asking – to go from $8 an hour to $15 an hour. You’re gonna see automated efficiency happen in fast food where there’s gonna be very few people working those lines.”

Labrador says as a teenager he tried to get a job in fast food. It didn’t work out.

“I actually applied at McDonald’s and they wouldn’t hire me,” he says. “I ended up selling shoes at the mall. And I did that for two years.  And I worked very hard and I made a lot more than minimum wage when I was 16-years-old because I worked hard.”

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