Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Reject SB 5541: Equal work deserves equal pay — regardless of gender, race, or age

Photo: Tax Credits via Flickr

Photo: Tax Credits via Flickr Creative Commons

Legislators should reject Senate Bill 5541, which proposes lowering the minimum wage for teens in Washington state.

Teenagers work for all sorts of reasons, including to pay for college, to support themselves, and to support their families.

A recent Urban Institute study of youth who left high school and went to work found that the majority of them contributed to family income. These teen’s earnings moved 42% of households that would otherwise be poor above the poverty level. One third of these kids were not living with a parent.

Yes, teen employment fell in every state between 1990 and 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And a Pew Research Center study entitled “The Fading of the Teen Summer Job” listed a number of reasons for this national trend, including fewer low-skill jobs, more students enrolled in school over the summer, and graduation requirements for unpaid service work – which my kids each spend a summer doing.

Washington’s teen unemployment rate is in the top five nationally, but a lower minimum wage is not the answer. The states with even higher teen unemployment rates than ours have minimum wages of $7.50 and $7.25. And if we look at the percentage of our state teenagers who actually have jobs, it’s right at the national average.

Unemployment as a teenager is not preventing our 20- to 24-year-olds from getting jobs. In fact, 68% of Washington residents in their early 20’s have a job compared to only 65% nationally.

Our young people who work hard — contributing to their families and our economy, and building for their future — deserve to be paid fairly.


Expanded State Employment Status Demographic Data

Employment and Unemployment Among Youth Summary

Pew study: Teen employment rate falling

The fading of the teen summer job

Where Youth Unemployment Is Highest and Lowest

Why Students Drop Out: The Economic Pressures That Make Leaving School Unavoidable

Dropping Out and Clocking In: A Portrait of Teens Who Leave School Early and Work

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