BURLEY • Nicole Brooks put on an apron and began making bundles of fresh bread dough, meats and cheese Thursday during her afternoon shift at the Maverik Country Store in Burley.
“No way, no how, could I live only on what I make,” said Brooks, who works for $7.25 per hour, the state’s minimum wage. “I don’t even bring home $200 per week. It pretty much just pays for the groceries.”
Brooks’s children are grown. She shares a room with a kitchenette at a local motel with her partner.
“It’s tough, but there’s always hope,” said Brooks, who’s worked at the store for about 10 months. “Maybe someday I won’t have to work.”
Manager of the East Main Street branch of Maverik Country Stores Kim Teague said the company starts out employees, except management, at the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
A recent growth spurt in Idaho’s service sector gave the state the highest percentage of workers making minimum wage or less in the nation.
About 7.7 percent of workers in Idaho made minimum wage, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. The state ranked 30th in 2011.
The statistics estimated that out of Idaho’s 404,000 workers, 31,000 were paid the minimum wage last year – an increase of 12,000 from 2011, according to the report.
Three out of four jobs created last year in Idaho were in the service sector, where minimum wage jobs are more likely to exist.
Christina Garcia, manager at Personnel Plus staffing agency, said about 25 percent of the jobs she is trying to fill pay minimum wage. Another 50 percent are in the $7.60 to $8 range.
The jobs that fall into the minimum wage category include food service, potato production lines and milk plants.
A few workers seeking minimum wage jobs are hoping to find a second job. Some are making a little more than the minimum but work fewer hours than full-time. They would make more at a full-time job paying the minimum, Garcia said.
Joe Belt, seasonal employee for Burley’s parks and recreation department raked weeping willow branches at Lex Kunau Park. He said that although he makes more than the state’s minimum wage at $10.50, he feels little hope for the future.
Because his employment is seasonal, it doesn’t come with any benefits.
Belt, 50, was badly injured in a car crash in 1999 and has tried unsuccessfully to find full-time employment.
“I really struggle during the winter, and last year my wife of 20 years divorced me,” said Belt, who has three children and now pays child support.
Belt currently lives in someone else’s home and is trying to continue his education, but it’s tough.
“There are not many benefits out there for single dads,” Belt said.