“How a teen minimum wage would have hurt me — and will hurt many young adults here in Washington”

Elissa Goss testifies before the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee in opposition to Senate Bill 5421 (teen summer wage) and Senate Bill 5422 (teen training wage), recounting her experience trying to get by on the minimum wage – and explaining why paying teens less for their work will hurt Washington’s young adults:

Good afternoon,

My name is Elissa Goss, Legislative and Policy Intern for the Washington State Labor Council testifying in opposition to SB 5421 and SB 5422.

I would like to share a bit of my own personal story and how a teen minimum wage would have hurt me, and will hurt many young adults here in Washington state.

For many 16-19 year olds, they are using their wages to support themselves, their families, and to either get through school, or as a way to become economically stable enough to be able to go to school. Also, I’d like to point out that for those who are 18 and 19, they are considered adult under the eyes of the law in most circumstances from being able to vote to serving our country. It doesn’t make sense to me to have those privileges, but be paid less for equal work.

At 18, I had to work for a year before being able to go to college. The wages I earned were critical to being able to make the transition from working 40 hours a week to part time while I was in college. With the combination of the State Need Grant and scholarships, I was able to mostly cover the cost of tuition but it meant that my income from working part-time at minimum wage, had to cover all of the my living expenses.

At $8.55 (the minimum wage in 2009), I lived off of about $684 a month to cover rent, food and during the time that my parents were between jobs and didn’t have insurance themselves, my own medical costs. $684 dollars. On months when that wasn’t enough, I scrambled to find side jobs such as nannying and yard work. By graduation, I still had to take out loans cover all my expenses, which I will be paying for about the next 15 to 20 years. This put a strain on my school work, and made it more difficult to participate in extracurriculars that are necessary to build a resume, such as internships, most of which are unpaid.

What is troubling is that that my story is neither unique nor the hardest. For many of my peers while I was in school, they had to work 2 jobs to cover living expenses and tuition, and loans became a reality for most students. The idea of “working through college” is not something any of my peers have been able to do. We worked just to keep our head above water and meet monthly expenses, while we watch our future financial health and stability, go down the drain as we had to take out loan after loan or resorted to using credit cards to cover basic needs like food.

When I think about whether or not I would have been able to work and go to school at a subminimum wage as is proposed in these two bills, I think about peers who had to financially support their younger siblings because their parents were also underpaid. I think about peers who had kids of their own, and were also juggling childcare costs. I think about friends who knew that it was up to them alone, to work save for college during highschool.

Young adults deserve a higher minimum wage, which will allow them to cover more costs, finish school more quickly, and take out fewer loans. I urge the committee to oppose these bills and support young workers as they try and build their futures. Thank you.

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