It’s the young who get hurt by a high minimum wage

Jan 28, 2020

On January 1st Washington’s mandatory minimum wage rose to $13.50.  That means it is illegal for anyone over the age of 15 to work for $13.49 or less, even if he or she wants to.  For many workers there is a wage that is lower than the state minimum – that wage is zero.  Yet for many people these idled young workers remain voiceless and invisible.

            State officials admit that the high minimum wage hurts young people, because they already allow a lower wage for anyone under 16.  Why?  Because it’s clear that the time and labor of a 14- or 15-year-old, no matter how conscientious and hard-working, is unlikely to be worth $13.50 an hour.

            The same truth applies to many people over age 15; they do not yet have the skill, training or experience to earn a higher wage.  So they remain unemployed, because under the state’s harsh minimum wage law, young and low-skilled people are not allowed to find work in the first place.  The government has priced them out of the labor market.

            This is not just an opinion.  Economic research shows a high minimum wage has the greatest negative effect on people with low skills, such as teen workers and immigrants.  A University of Washington study shows Seattle would have 5,000 more jobs, mostly for youth, if it did not impose a high minimum wage.  The study notes:

            “…if they [employers] are going to be paying as much as they have to pay they are not taking a chance on a teenager, they are looking for a more experienced worker to fill that job.”

            Among states, Washington consistently ranks among the highest in youth unemployment.  Our unemployment rate for teen workers is 20 percent, over four times higher than the general rate of 4.6 percent.  It is obvious that high mandated wages kill jobs for youth.

            Some people say the minimum wage should support a family of four.  This is false idea of what “minimum” means.  The policy is based on the wages of one person.  Research shows most minimum wage workers are young, work part time, have never been married, and live at home.  Most minimum wage earners provide the second or third income in a household making more than $50,000 a year.

            The Federal Bureau of Labor says only three percent of hourly workers make the minimum wage, and half of these workers are under age 25.  Clearly, raising the minimum wage means more young people will remain jobless.

            In some rural and urban communities the high minimum wage increases poverty, because it kills job opportunities for low-income people, making it more likely they will stay poor.

            Lawmakers should soften the law and allow a starter training wage.  As young people gain experience they generally earn a raise, or move on to a higher-paying job.  They also learn important character lessons that lead to lifetime success; how to be on time, how to have a positive attitude, how to follow directions, how to be part of a team, and how take pride in shared success in the workplace.

            Many people feel generous when the government makes employers pay more, but to them workers who are hurt remain invisible.  They choose not to see the teenager who can’t gain real-world skills, the newly-arrived immigrant who is shut out, or the young graduate who can’t find a job.  It’s time to shake-up this smug attitude and see that raising the cost of creating a job has a real down side.

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