Do new minimum wage increases negatively effect teens? Nebraska lawmakers believe that businesses will stop providing valuable first jobs for young people if they have to pay increased wages. Newly proposed legislation would create a separate pay rate for the category of “young student workers”. Instead of the targeted $9 minimum wage, young workers would either be paid $8 an hour, or 85 percent of the federal minimum, whichever is higher. The wage would apply to those younger than 18 without a high school diploma or dependents. The proposal is similar to legislation adopted in South Dakota, exempting young employees from the voter-approved wage hike.
Some Nebraska lawmakers believe voters never set out to increase the pay of high school students, but intended to increase the wages of the working poor – people who can’t make ends meet. However, some see the move as clear-cut age discrimination and perhaps an issue of class. In urban enclaves of Omaha and Lincoln, young people are not always just working for extra spending money or experience – they are trying to help out their financially strapped families. Nationwide, about 34 percent of people aged 16 to 19 are in the labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But in Nebraska, that figure is 52 percent (only Iowa has a higher rate), which suggests a growing need among youth to earn a living.
Some students think the wage disparity is ridiculous. One student, who is hoping to earn money for college by working over the summer can’t fathom why he would receive less pay for the same work, seeing the new proposal as age discrimination. In the other camp are businesses, uncertain about their ability to support the community with jobs if they are forced to pay higher wages across the board. With many states considering minimum wage increases across the nation, including Iowa, the question of how to balance these interests may prove difficult.
Source: International Business Times, “Youth Minimum Wage: Nebraska Considers Lower Minimum Pay Rate For Young Workers”, by Cole Stangler, May 4, 2015.