Minimum wage increase may be small, but it adds up for employees - and business owners
Minimum wage earners in the quad-city area and throughout Arizona can expect a small cost-of-living increase on Jan. 1, 2013 - 15 cents an hour.
The Industrial Commission of Arizona decided Oct. 17 to increase the minimum wage from $7.65 to $7.80 an hour when the New Year arrives. The increase would increase the pay of a 40-hour employee from $306 to $312 a week, said Karen Axsom, director of the commission's Labor Department.
The minimum wage hike is based on a 1.7 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index for the year ending in August, Axsom said. Arizona's minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
Arizona voters in 2006 approved an initiative to raise the minimum wage. It was only $6.75 in January 2007, Axsom said.
Axsom said she does not know how many workers earn only the minimum wage. However, she cited the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as reporting only 5.6 percent of the hourly wage earners in Arizona make the minimum wage or less an hour.
Putting a face to one of the statistics is Brandon Gaylor, a 21-year-old Williamson Valley resident who said he works at a franchise-owned fast-food restaurant. He said he has worked there a year and a half and does not receive any benefits.
Gaylor said the 15-cent increase "is not very much," adding, "I would like to see it go up at least 50 cents."
Surviving on the minimum wage is a challenge, Gaylor said.
"I just make it happen," he said. He said he saves money on housing by living with his girlfriend.
Gaylor, who graduated from high school in Spokane, Wash., in 2010, said he wants to better his circumstances by taking culinary classes to learn to become a pastry chef.
In Yavapai County, the median wage in 2011 was nearly double the minimum wage at $14.61 an hour, according to statistics on the website of the Arizona Commerce Authority.
Most of the businesses in downtown Prescott probably pay above the minimum wage, said Kendall Jaspers, executive director of the Prescott Downtown Partnership and owner of a burger restaurant bearing his first name on Cortez Street.
"They don't have lots of employees, and they tend to have employees that are key to them," Jaspers said.
Jaspers said the minimum wage was a "big deal" when he opened his restaurant 25 years ago.
"There was a scarcity of jobs," he said. "I have not paid (as low as the) minimum wage for a year and a half to two years."
Jaspers said low pay hurts employers because it encourages higher turnover.
Some employers are exempt from the minimum-wage requirements and pay even less an hour, Axsom said. For instance, employers in Arizona may pay $3 less an hour in direct wages to workers who regularly receive tips, as long as those tips and wages reach or exceed the minimum wage.
That exemption applies to wait staff at restaurants and valet parkers, Axsom said.
For more information about the state law, minimum wage and employers' obligations, log onto www.ica.state.az.us.