In a Sept. 26 Iowa View, eight Polk County high-school students objected to a proposed youth minimum wage set at 85 percent of the full minimum wage [Lower minimum wage for youth is age discrimination]. The students huff: “Why would we be paid lower than our older co-workers … only because of our age?”
The question answers itself. If employers are forced to pay a starting wage that’s nearly 50 percent higher, as Polk County has proposed, they’ll naturally look for older employees whose skills justify that higher wage. A youth minimum wage provision is designed to help keep starter opportunities available for young adults in Polk County.
The students rightly note that many young people “will take any job that pays.” That’s because a first job is more than a paycheck — it’s a valuable step on the career ladder. A 2014 study by economists at the University of Virginia and Middle Tennessee State University found a long-term career benefit from a first job: 20 hours per week of work during senior year resulted in annual earnings that were 20 percent higher six to nine years after their graduation, compared with their unemployed counterparts.
Maybe these students should spend less time demanding a higher wage, and more time gaining the experience necessary to justify it.