If I-1433 passes, the state should move to establish a lower youth minimum wage for all workers under the age of 18.
EVERGREEN State voters will not just be facing a choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton this November. Washington ballots will also include Initiative 1433, which would increase the state minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020. If it passes, and it likely will, many workers would get a raise. But unless there’s a move to protect teenage workers, young people would be left behind.
Federal law permits workers under the age of 20 to earn no less than $4.25 an hour for their first 90 consecutive calendar days of employment. But since more restrictive state laws supersede federal laws, young Washingtonians cannot take advantage of this exemption.
Proponents of minimum-wage increases argue that their effect on job availability is limited. For adults, there is some evidence to support this. But when it comes to young workers ages 16 to 19, the weight of evidence points in one direction: Minimum-wage hikes reduce employment opportunities.
Business owners must weigh trade offs when deciding whether or not to hire. An adult with acquired skills and previous work experience will usually not find it difficult to convince a potential employer that hiring him or her is worth a wage in the realm of $13.50 an hour; not so for teenagers. An entry-level worker, with no professional references or résumé, might be able to find work at $7.25 or even $9.47 an hour (Washington’s current minimum wage). But few employers would be willing to take a chance on an untested young person when they must pay him or her $13.50 an hour or higher.
Washington’s ballot initiative means fewer summer and part-time jobs for teenagers, which would thin out résumés and make it more difficult to start careers. But Washington can easily fix this by allowing young people to earn below the standard minimum wage.
Washington’s ballot initiative means fewer summer and part-time jobs for teenagers, which would thin out résumés and make it more difficult to start careers.”
Under Washington state law, Joel Sacks, director of the state Department of Labor and Industries, could establish a lower minimum wage for workers under 18 without the need for a legislative or popular stamp of approval. If I-1433 passes, Sacks should immediately move to establish a lower youth minimum wage for all workers under the age of 18. For workers ages 18 and 19, a change to the language of the initiative itself is necessary to establish a youth minimum wage. (Currently, teenagers ages 14 and 15 can earn a slightly reduced minimum wage, but those aged 16 and 17 are ineligible.)
In a new report for the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, I estimate that these changes (combined with reforms at the federal level) would generate 13,600 new jobs for young people in Washington, boosting teenage employment in the state by 11 percentage points.
Washingtonians understandably want to see higher wages for their fellow workers. However, higher minimum wages should not come at the expense of job opportunities for young people who need them the most. By embracing the youth minimum wage as a policy tool, Washington can save young workers from an otherwise certain dearth of employment opportunities.