Montanans earning minimum wage will get a boost in their paychecks now that the state's minimum wage increased by 10 cents.
The Jan. 1 wage increase to $7.35 is part of Initiative 151, which was enacted in 2006, making the state's minimum wage greater than the current state or federal minimum wage. The initiative also includes a cost-of-living adjustment.
While that comes as good news to those earning minimum wage, most businesses around Billings say they pay their workers over that limit.
"The only ones we have close to minimum wage is high school courtesy clerks," said Don Rickhoff, manager of Evergreen IGA. "Everyone else is above, but most of our courtesy clerks have been with us for a while, so they receive raises and such."
The same goes for the 27 employees at Good Earth Market. General Manager Perry McNeese said his employees' starting wage is $8.
"Three years ago when I came, we had some people under $8, but never close to minimum wage," McNeese said.
Of the 406 jobs available through Billings Job Service, supervisor John Harper said most of them pay above minimum wage, with the lowest around $7.50 per hour.
"Generally we see that up a little higher than that at the $8 to $8.50 range," Harper said. "The basic service skills industries like fast food and retail is where wages at the minimum wage level will show up."
He said the Billings area has been trending toward paying higher than minimum wage for the past few years — between 7 and 10 percent higher on average.
"It's the competitive market with employers trying to get the best people in," Harper said.
Madonna Real Bird, 21, of Billings, can't wait to see the increase on her next paycheck.
The single mom working part time at Abercrombie and Fitch and attending school said the increase will help cover her portion of the bills she shares with her boyfriend.
"It will help out with gas, anything," Real Bird said. "Things are tight. If I didn't have my boyfriend, things would be really tight."
Burger King District Manager John Nelson said that on the surface the wage increase will have a minimal effect. It's what follows the increase that concerns him.
"The only problem with the increase is those raises do not just impact minimum wage, it causes everyone to pursue or believe they deserve a similar increase because they earn more than minimum wage," Nelson said. "They feel they should be eligible for the increase as well."
For employees at the Montana Brewing Co., it's a different story.
Waitress Kaysi Dahl, 22, has worked with the Montana Brewing Co., for the past four years. While she's not making minimum wage, she and the rest of the employees will see an increase on their first paychecks.
"When the minimum wage increase goes into effect, we adjust the wages all across the board," owner Sean Graves said. "Basically, we increase everybody's pay. It's something we do to be fair."
Graves said he employs between 20 and 30 people that earn minimum wage, which can have a pretty big effect on the company's overall labor costs.
He said since the beginning of the minimum wage increase, they've seen a 5 to 7 percent increase in those costs.
"We haven't adjusted the costs for that with our prices," Graves said. "We just kind of absorb that as a cost of doing business with the labor increase."