ONTARIO — Starting today, the minimum wage for Malheur County and other rural counties went up 50 cents, to $10.50. According to data from the Oregon Employment Department that could affect more than 2,000 jobs.
Following a bill passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2016, the minimum wage has been going up incrementally, 50 cents per hour each July. That trend will continue through 2022, after which the minimum wage will go back to being tied to the consumer price index.
The wage in nonurban or rural counties are set to reach $12.50 an hour by 2022, $13.50 an hour for urban counties and $14.75 for the Portland metro area.
In fact, in a report issued June 13, Christopher Rich, with the Employment Department, said 8.4 percent of all jobs in eastern Oregon, including Malheur, Baker, Grant, Harney, Morrow, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties, paid the minimum wage of $10 per hour during the third quarter of 2017.
Singularly, in Malheur County the number of jobs paying $10 an hour or less in all industries was 2,050 or 13.3 percent, according to the report.
Nearly half of the jobs in the region paid less than $15 per hour, the report states, compared to 34.7 percent of jobs across the state. In Malheur County the percentage of jobs paying under $15 an hour was 53.3 percent, furthest from the state average, according to the data.
Most of the jobs paying the minimum wage were in leisure and hospitality, retail trade, natural resources and mining, Rich said in his report, with Malheur County having 59.2 percent of all minimum wage jobs in the mining and natural resources sector.
The increase in the minimum wage will have an impact on local business, said Kay Riley of Snake River Produce. This is because the increase to business is more than just a higher wage, he said.
“It will raise our labor costs, much more than the 5 percent increase, especially when you factor in overtime and additional portions of FICA, unemployment, vacation pay and Medicare,” Riley wrote in an email.
“It will just make it that much more difficult to compete with our neighbors across the [Snake] river. I am thankful that we are in a rural zone so that it is not as much as the more metropolitan areas, Riley continued. I think we can thank Sen. [Cliff] Bentz and the activities of people in the area for that relief and consideration.”
Rich noted in his report that being close to Idaho communities provides Malheur County with an expanded labor pool, and with its higher minimum wage “likely helps keep Malheur’s minimum wage competitive for non-skilled agricultural labor.”
“Yes I think it helps a little,” Riley concurred “I would think the ones [sheds] closest to us would have to pay the same rate.”
With today’s increase in the minimum wage, customers of the Plaza Inn will start seeing slightly higher prices on the menu.
“You can only not raise prices for so long,” Jason Jungling, assistant manager said, adding the increase would be small to help offset the additional costs.
It can cause some heartburn if long-term employees find that with the minimum-wage increases entry level workers are making the same as they are, Jungling said.
Referring to the minimum wage increase that will continue after 2020, tied to the consumer price index, Jungling expressed concern.
“It’s going to get scary for small business,” he said.