Rising minimum wages are shutting more young people out of job market; Michigan bill would encourage employers to hire them

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Minimum wages are rising around the country, including in Michigan. And that’s having the unintended effect of keeping young adults out of the job market. With youth unemployment soaring, a bill in the Michigan Legislature would offer some assistance to teens seeking to build their resumes and earn income.

Sen. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, has introduced some legislation that would extend the youth minimum wage to workers under 20, allowing older teens a better chance to get their first job and gaining critical employment skills.

By making young workers more attractive to employers, this legislation should help alleviate a youth unemployment rate that is more than three times that of workers over age 20.

Michigan’s teen unemployment rate is 18.4 percent. Youth unemployment is even higher in minority communities. And lawmakers’ decision to hike the minimum wage—rising to $9.25 by 2019—will leave more youth out of work.

State law allows a pay scale that’s 85 percent of the full minimum wage for teens ages 16 and 17. O’Brien’s bill expands current law to cover the entire teen labor force, allowing Michigan businesses to pay the youth wage to employees below the age of 20. O’Brien’s bill would also adjust the lower training wage that employers can pay during the first 90 days of employment.

The problem of youth unemployment has caught the attention of some of the nation’s largest employers. Last week, Starbucks and other corporations, including Target and Microsoft, joined together with the intent to provide jobs for 100,000 unemployed young people over the next three years. These business owners, who acknowledge teens are being shut out of the job market, are calling their effort the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative. An estimated 5.5 million Americans, ages 16 to 24, aren't employed or in school.

Opponents of O’Brien’s bill, including the UAW, say that lower wages for the 18 and 19 year olds would hurt young people’s ability to pay for things like college tuition.

O’Brien rejects those claims, and says her legislation would help youth get into the job market, setting them up to make more money in the future.

“I just want kids to get their first real job,” she says. “I want to give that employer a reason to take a risk on them.”

Minimum wage jobs are often the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Once a teen gets that first job, it’s easier to move into higher paying work.

But, O’Brien says, “it’s getting harder and harder for teens to get their first job.”

This bill could help more youth get into the job market and give them a stronger start toward adult careers.

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