The minimum wage around the state rose by a dollar to $12 per hour at the beginning of this year and that’s a good thing, Nogales-area workers say.
But increases in the cost of living mean that working people don’t necessarily feel better off. And business owners say that it’s another challenge for companies struggling to keep the doors open.
Guadalupe Ibañez, a 17-year employee of Kory’s dress shop in downtown Nogales, said she was glad to see a little extra money in her first paycheck of this year. Ibañez, who works 40 hours per week on the floor and at the cash register, said she saw about $30 more in her most recent check, which she planned to put towards her savings.
Margarita Delgado, who works in the grocery section at Walmart, said that her pay increase was eaten up by taxes and other cost increases, so she didn’t feel like she had more money at the end of the day.
The 2020 raise is the last increase mandated by Proposition 206, a ballot measure that Arizona voters passed in 2016. It boosted the state’s hourly minimum wage from $8.05 in 2016 to $10 in 2017, $10.50 in 2018, $11 in 2019 and now to $12. It also requires employers to provide paid sick leave.
For employees who receive tips, the state minimum rose from $8 to $9 per hour on Jan. 1.
Jaime Lopez, 19, works at Denny’s and said it “felt pretty good” to see a little extra in his paycheck, adding that the dollars will go further when he changes them to pesos in Nogales, Sonora, where he lives.
But Lopez didn’t see the increase making a big change in his life. He said he expects to spend it on gas and food for his family.
At downtown retail stores, which have long struggled with declining sales, the wage raise coincided with the end of the holiday shopping season, when employees often see their hours cut.
“In January, they always lower the hours,” said Hortencia Zuniga, who has worked at Melrose Family Fashions for 15 years. She thinks the minimum wage increase was good, she said, but she still isn’t earning more than the previous month, since she was working less.
“The salary goes up and the economy goes up in all its aspects,” noted Zuniga’s colleague Maria Miranda. She said that the cost of living was eating up any extra money she earned.
Greg Kory, whose family owns the downtown Nogales stores Kory’s and La Cinderella, said the business had raised wages for 32 employees this year, including those whose salaries were at or slightly above minimum wage.
Kory said the minimum wage raise comes as retailers – especially those near the border – continue to struggle with slow traffic and dwindling numbers of customers.
“The employee is not going to be any better off if our business closes,” he added. “I want to continue to stay open, but it’s getting pretty tough.”
While state law has changed, it hasn’t necessarily made a difference for the many local employees who work off the books.
One employee at a Morley Avenue retailer said she hadn’t heard about the minimum wage increase, adding that she was still earning $10 per hour, paid in cash.
When Santa Cruz County passed its 2019-20 budget last August, County Finance Director Mauricio Chavez said that the pending minimum wage increase had made it tough to balance the budget.
“I think if we can have a good living wage for our employees it’s a good thing,” County Supervisor Manny Ruiz said.
But, he added: “It’s a blessing I think, and it can be a curse at the same time.”