Idaho has high percentage of minimum wage earners in U.S.

Published On: Feb 28 2013 06:50:19 PM PST
Barista making coffee

If you want a bump on the pay scale, you might look anywhere but Idaho. New statistics show the Gem State has the highest percent of workers in the country making minimum wage or less an hour.

At Java on Sherman in downtown Coeur d'Alene, the coffee is always brewing, the cookies and pastries are always on display and the tips are always welcomed.

"We start everybody at minimum wage," owner David Patterson said.

Idaho's minimum wage is only $7.25 an hour.

"It's definitely a struggle, but we make ends meet," barista Daniel Couillard said.

"It's tight, money is very tight," barista Ian Nelson added.

Owner David Patterson knows what it's like to make minimum wage that's why he tries to pay his baristas a little more.

"I make $7.65 an hour plus tips," Couillard said.

"Right now $8.50 an hour but I have worked here for two years," Nelson said.

While Couillard and Nelson don't not make minimum wage anymore, there's still 7.7-percent of the Idaho workforce who do.

Last year only 5-percent percent of workers in the Gem State made minimum wage or less. The national average is 4.7-percent.

"I think it underscores the need for us to expand our economic base to include more manufacturing and technology based companies," Steve Wilson, President of the Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce, said.

Last year three of every four jobs created in the Gem State were in the service sector, where you typically find a lot of minimum wage jobs.

Wilson says he's proud of the state's tourism driven economy but worries that qualified workers could jump the border for more money.

"If we are producing a group of students and then graduating them and the jobs are elsewhere we just helped educate the work force of Seattle or Portland and I don't think that's healthy," he said.

Nelson agrees. He may head to the Evergreen State where he can put a little more green in his wallet.

"If I got offered a job in Spokane, I would take it easily just to drive over there," he said.

If the sequester goes through, Idaho could lose about $300,000 in funding that helps 10,000 workers each year find jobs in the state.