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The debate over Idaho’s minimum wage is an important one, and we’d like to see it continue.

As reported last week in the Idaho Press, organizers seeking to put a minimum wage increase on the ballot are out trying to gather enough signatures to get a measure put before the voters.

Without weighing in on the measure itself, we are in favor of putting this particular measure on the ballot and having the voters decide.

The proposal is a relatively modest one. Organizers propose raising the minimum wage in Idaho from its current $7.25 per hour, which matches the federal level, to $8.75 per hour immediately, then to $9.75 the next year, to $10.75 the year after that, then to $12 the year after that. Once it hits $12 per hour, the minimum wage would be tied to the consumer price index, or inflation. So as prices and the cost of living go up, so too does the minimum wage.

We are happy to see that this proposal is a gradual one, rather than, say, an immediate jump up to $15 an hour, making this proposal more palatable and giving business owners more time to adjust to the added cost. We also like the idea of tying the minimum wage to the cost of living, a reasonable standard and one that takes the decision out of the hands of legislators, who are at the mercy of the vagaries of politics.

We’re not yet ready to give our stamp of approval to raising the minimum wage, but for the time being, we support putting your signature on the petition and getting it on the ballot so the voters can decide.

We recognize that simply raising the minimum wage is not a panacea and that there are other factors that have an impact on the cost of living and quality of life in Idaho.

That said, pulling up the minimum wage in other states has been shown to provide net benefits, including reducing turnover costs for employers, creating more spending power, reducing poverty and, often, raising both wages and employment.

We have heard and appreciate the argument that the minimum wage isn’t supposed to be a living wage, that it allows employers to hire lower-skilled, less-experienced workers, such as, say, a 16-year-old high school student.

But the reality is that we do indeed have workers working minimum wage jobs trying to make ends meet. Sure, they have an incentive to get a better-paying job, but that’s not always going to happen. Further, is the work that a 16-year-old does for an employer less valuable just because it’s done by a 16-year-old?

According to federal and state estimates, 16,000 Idahoans made $7.25 an hour or less in 2017, while 58,000 made less than $8.75 in 2018. More than 200,000 Idahoans earn less than $12 an hour. An employee working full time at $7.25 an hour earns $15,080 a year, just above the federal poverty level for a one-person household of $12,140. Poverty level for a two-person household is $16,460. A full-time worker earning $7.25 per hour earns a gross weekly salary of $290; monthly, it’s $1,257. With the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Boise at $1,062, you can see how hard it would be to make ends meet on the current minimum wage.

We recognize that raising the minimum wage is, in essence, a “consumer tax,” that the cost is generally passed along to consumers. We are concerned about vulnerable businesses that perhaps have lower profit margins and may not be able to pass along large increases to their customers.

We are also sensitive to the argument that the free market will take care of the problem. And indeed, we are seeing it happen, particularly in this time of low unemployment. It’s becoming a worker’s market, and employers increasingly have to pay higher wages to attract and retain good workers.

That is another argument for tying the minimum wage to inflation. By taking it out of the hands of a political process, you can avoid political miscalculations — on either side of the argument.

These are all good discussions to have, and we hope to have more of them in the coming months, weighing the pros and the cons, the costs and the benefits.

In the meantime, if someone with a clipboard asks if you’d like to sign a petition to get the question of raising the minimum wage on the ballot, we think you should sign it, endorsing the opportunity for all Idahoans to make this important decision.

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Idaho Press editorials are based on the majority opinions of the editorial board. Not all opinions are unanimous. Members of the board are Publisher Matt Davison and community members Tami Dooley, John Jackson, Chase Johnson, Melissa Morales, Jane Suggs and Devon Van Essen. Editor Scott McIntosh is a nonvoting member.

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