Teens could see a lower minimum wage rate

Staff writerJanuary 29, 2014 

Teenagers hoping to cash in on Washington’s highest-in-the-nation minimum wage may soon be out of luck.

For most teens, a first job is an integral step in entering the workforce—honing skills like professionalism and timeliness can help teens better prepare for the future. But landing that first job is becoming more of a problem for some teenagers.

“A whole generation of teens are not being able to develop a work ethic,” said Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner of Spokane.

More middle-aged workers are filling jobs traditionally given to teenagers, and as such, preventing teens from getting that important first job. Two proposals in the Senate hope to allow more teens to enter the workforce.

Senate Bill 6471, introduced by Baumgartner, would create a summer training wage for teens. The bill would allow employers to pay 14- to 19-year-olds hired on a seasonal basis from June 31 through August 31 the federal wage of $7.25. Minimum wage in Washington is currently $9.32.

“It’s a limited bill…[that] gets at an issue that we all need to be concerned about: getting our teens in the workforce,” Baumgartner said.

Senate Bill 6495 would establish a training wage for 14- to 19-year-olds. Sponsored by Moses Lake Republican Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, the legislation would allow employers to pay new teenage employees 85 percent of the minimum wage ($7.92) or the federal minimum wage ($7.25), whichever is greater.

“We need to make sure 16- to 19-year-olds have an opportunity,” Holmquist Newbry said.

Both proposals came before the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Wednesday.

Baumgartner and Holmquist Newbry both expressed concerns about job opportunities available to teenagers. They said that based on the current economic climate and the high minimum wage rate in Washington, fewer businesses want to hire unskilled teenagers when they could hire skilled adults.

But Seattle Democrat Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles said that she’s not convinced of any benefits of a lower wage for teen workers.

“It doesn’t seem quite fair that you can’t make the minimum wage in our state,” Kohl-Welles said. “I don’t think it’s impossible to think of [teens] who would really be dependent on the wage.”

Currently, 14- and 15-year-olds can be paid 85 percent of the minimum wage, or the federal minimum wage, whichever is higher.

Patrick Connor of the National Federation of Independent Business said creating a teen training wage would be a small but important step.

We need to “do everything we can to make teen employment more attractive for employers,” said Connor.

“Lowering wages for working teens in the wrong approach,” said Marilyn Watkins of the Economic Opportunity Institute. “Young workers are typically last hired and first fired.” Watkins said that teens today are more likely to be working or going to school during the summer than in decades past. She said a higher minimum wage results in less turnover among employees.

Teresa Mosqueda of the Washington State Labor Council agreed with Watkins and said that teenagers should not have their wages discriminated against based on their age. She said that while the median age for low wage workers is increasing, that doesn’t mean teens should be paid less.

“For the same work, you oughta have the same pay,” said Mosqueda.

Both proposals now await an executive session, where it will be decided if they will move onto the Senate floor for consideration.

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