Opinion editorial by Rep. Liz Pike: Optional training wage bill would open doors for youth in the workplace
Sometimes, newspapers don't have enough space to adequately report on important legislative issues, so much of the real story goes untold. That seems to be the case with House Bill 2614 , a measure I've introduced to enact a temporary training wage program designed to create more jobs for our young people. As radio commentator Paul Harvey used to say, “And now, the rest of the story!”
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. There are important safeguards in the bill, such as the training wage could only be utilized once per employee. After 680 hours, the worker's salary would automatically jump to minimum wage or higher.
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 to accept a job with starting wages at 75 percent of the Washington's minimum wage (which is the highest state wage in the nation). 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.
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 is directly attributable to explain why Washington has one of the highest teen unemployment rates in the nation.
Why is it 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 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 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 unemployment will undoubtedly continue.
House Bill 2614 should be entitled “A Young People's Jobs Program for Washington.” This measure would not only help our young people, but would stimulate new job creation in our communities. Please join with me to help open more doors for our youth in the workplace. It is time to pass this bill.