When Spencer Asay filled out his first job application last week, he wasn't sure what to put down for expected wage. So the 15-year-old Central High student just wrote down $6.50.
"I didn't think I'd get that," he says, still smiling. "I wasn't sure what they were going to start me at, but I kind of expected minimum wage."
In Billings this summer, "minimum wage" has floated into the $6 to $7 range for jobs long considered minimum-wage jobs. That's why Mary Nagy, manager at the Taco Bell, was willing to meet Asay's request. Just two months ago, starting wage at Taco Bell hit $7, or $6.50 for 15-year-olds.
Asay was drawn to Taco Bell because it's one of the few places hiring kids his age. But it's also his favorite fast-food restaurant. So $5 worth of food per shift is a real plus for him.
Asay, who's balancing work around driver's education, is saving money for gas. He's already put in close to 20 hours in his first five days, and he said he likes the variety of work. He expects to stick around all summer and maybe into the school year.
"For a first part-time job, that (pay) is pretty good," he said. "I like it."
Just across the parking lot, Penny Smith was drawn to McDonald's by a sign that promised $7 an hour. Smith, a college graduate with a degree in liberal studies, had a difficult time finding part-time work that paid better than $7.50 an hour. The 48-year-old mother and wife was working at a secretarial job when the sign caught her eye.
"I said, heck, I can get the hours I want to work and still get paid about what I made before without all the pressure," she said.
An advocate of a living wage, she says the higher pay attracts better applicants, which makes for a better workplace. She likes the people she works with and is pleased with the upward trend of pay in Billings.
"I think I'll stick with it," she said, "as long as my arms and legs hold out."