Nick Linstedt smokes a cigarette behind the Happy Days Car Wash on Brooks Street on a brisk December afternoon. Linstedt, 22, washes cars for a living. He hasn't thought much about the raise he'll get Jan. 1, when Montana's minimum wage goes from $7.35 to $7.65. But it will certainly help. "They should raise it," he says.
Linstedt has three small children. His wife stays home with the kids. The family does okay with what they have, he says. Still, he says, his earnings limit them. "I can't go eat at none of the nice restaurants like everybody else."
According to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, Linstedt is one of roughly 20,000 workers statewide who will directly benefit from the minimum-wage hike. Full-time employees who earned $7.35 hourly in 2011 will bring in roughly $600 more in 2012, to earn a total pre-tax annual income of $15,912.
The raise comes as a result of an initiative passed by Montana voters in 2006 that mandated annual cost-of-living increases. As a result of the law, Montana minimum-wage earners will have received $2.50 in total increases as of Jan. 1, 2012.
"We're really happy about it...I know it's going to help tens of thousands of Montanans directly," says Missoula Area Central Labor Council President Mark Anderlik.
Anderlik, who also serves as executive officer for Unite Here Local 427, which represents roughly 500 maids, hospitality workers and dishwashers across the state, says that while the raise is good news, much more needs to be done to ensure Montana's workers earn a living wage. According to U.S. Census data, 15 percent of the state's residents live in poverty. "It's just the tip of the iceberg [of what] we need to do in order to bring more economic equality and economic justice in this country," he says.
According to the state Department of Labor and Industry, as of Jan. 1, Montana's minimum wage will be higher than it is in 18 other states. Washington tops the chart at $9.04.