OPINION: Minimum Wage Laws Are Punishing Young Workers Across The Country

REUTERS/Ann Saphir

Jon Riches Contributor
Font Size:

The left’s war to impose high government-mandated minimum wages — across the country and at all levels of government — is in full force. Already we are seeing that some of the most vulnerable and inexperienced workers — particularly young workers — are falling victim to these destructive policies.

The unemployment rate for young workers in the United States has generally averaged about twice the unemployment rate for older workers. Meanwhile, the youth unemployment rate in states that permit a lower minimum wage for students and young workers, such as Colorado and Utah, is nearly half that of neighboring states, such as Arizona, that do not.

As employers are forced to pay higher wages to all workers because of arbitrary and rising minimum wage mandates, young workers continue to get priced out of the market and with it so do their opportunities for work experience and career growth.

The evidence on this point continues to mount. The city of Seattle was one of the first local governments to experiment with a hefty minimum wage, which at $15 per hour, is over twice the federal minimum wage. The results for young and inexperienced workers have been abysmal. A study conducted by University of Washington researchers concluded simply, “Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance appears to have delivered higher pay to experienced workers at the cost of reduced opportunity for the inexperienced.”

The reason behind these findings is simple: Rather than hiring younger, inexperienced workers at an artificially high wage, employers have instead directed those wages to older workers and foregone the entry-level positions altogether.

The damage done by government-mandated minimum wages has been particularly devastating for service and retail industries. In New York, for example, the minimum wage has nearly doubled over a short seven-year period. The result has been significant job loss — nearly 6,000 restaurant jobs in 2018 alone — as well as small business closure. This is occurring when jobs in other industries where minimum wage workers are not as prevalent continue to grow.

Arizona is beginning to explore solutions to this problem. That state has a minimum wage that is set to rise to $12 by next year, as a result of a statewide voter initiative supported mainly by out-of-state interests. Some farsighted lawmakers have attempted to address this problem by introducing legislation to allow full-time students who are working part-time to be paid the federal minimum wage rather than the state’s higher minimum wage. Such an approach would make it easier for businesses to offer employment opportunities to younger workers; being forced to pay a high minimum wage would drive many businesses to limit hours and jobs, to younger workers’ detriment.

The minimum wage is cruel to all employees who want to work at an agreed-upon wage but are told by the government that they cannot. It is particularly cruel to young workers just looking to gain valuable work experience, but who will have fewer and fewer opportunities to land those first few consequential jobs. States should be exploring potential solutions to protect their young workers, not creating conditions that take opportunity away from them.

Minimum wage laws should recognize market realities and stop punishing job-seekers trying to fill jobs at wages employers are offering and to which employees have agreed. Laws that reduce minimum wages for job-seekers, including for younger and other inexperienced workers, would help deliver what minimum wage laws have utterly failed to create: more job opportunities for workers just trying to build a career.

Everyone should support that outcome, especially those who don’t want to see this country’s youngest job-seekers left behind.

Jon Riches is the director of national litigation at the Goldwater Institute, an Arizona-based nonprofit dedicated to limited government.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.