Opinion editorial by Rep. Liz Pike: Optional training wage bill would open doors for youth in the workplace
In my role as state representative, I am constantly seeking solutions to the challenges that affect our local area and soliciting ideas from constituents. That's why I introduced House Bill 2614, legislation that would enact a temporary training wage program designed to create more jobs for our young people.
House Bill 2614 is a great, “think outside the box” measure that would establish an option for Washington employers (if they choose) to hire unskilled workers who are new to the workforce. It's a temporary training wage set at 75 percent of the state's minimum wage, and limits the training wage to only the first 680 hours of employment. After 680 hours, the worker's salary would automatically jump to minimum wage or higher. There are important safeguards in the bill, such as the training wage could only be utilized once per employee.
I authored this bill because there is no current incentive for employers to hire unskilled teen workers who desperately want to enter the workforce. The increase in minimum wage rates in Washington has resulted in a dramatic drop in teen employment. Hard facts tell the story. In 2001, there were more than 102,000 Washington youth, ages 14-18, employed. By 2011, that figure dropped in half to just 56,000 jobs. And, there are many more teens living in our state today than a decade ago. Our state's highest minimum wage in the United States at $9.32 an hour explains why Washington has one of the highest teen unemployment rates in the nation.
Implementing a training wage is about choices and options. It's a choice for employers. No business would be mandated to opt into the training wage program. It's a choice for prospective workers. They wouldn't have to apply for “training wage” jobs if they didn't want a job with starting wages at 75 percent of Washington's minimum wage. The success of any such program is dictated by free market principles. If “training wage” positions go unfilled, then market forces would end the practice. It's that simple.
A Feb. 7 editorial by The Columbian noted, “the idea has some merits.” But it said the measure is “outweighed by the shortcomings.” It is true, as The Columbian noted in a Feb. 4 article that “the bill includes no age requirement on who could be paid the lower training wage.” Since this measure is primarily intended to help our youth get a foot in the door, I am willing to add those requirements and I expressed this during my testimony to the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee. At the end of my testimony, I clearly spelled out my openness for amending and refining this bill – a fact The Columbian's editorial omitted. I further stated I wanted to work with all members of the committee, Democrats and Republicans, on this training wage measure so that we can open job opportunities for our state's youth.
I am willing to do this because it is important for our young people to have the chance to work and gain valuable experience. Think back to that first job and how important it was toward mature development. This measure is an ideal opportunity for our young people to develop necessary skills which would benefit them for the rest of their lives. First-time jobs help encourage a strong work ethic, build self-esteem and self-discipline. First-time jobs teach critical thinking, team work, problem solving and collaboration. First-time jobs also reinforce good personal habits, such as appropriate dress, cleanliness, and being on time. Once learned, these important soft skills will benefit our state's young workers as a whole and these workers will have a greater chance to become more successful in life as they move up the ladder in their chosen careers.
There is no cogent argument for denying this important rite of passage for our young people. Without a financial incentive to hire inexperienced teens, this downward trend of high teen unemployment will undoubtedly continue. That's why I am working so hard on this issue – because I believe in our youth, I believe in our employers, and I believe House Bill 2614 will open more doors for our youth in the workplace. We need to pass this bill.