Youth can learn as they earn

By Carol Walker

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My first summer job was as a nurse’s aide in a drab nursing home in north Minneapolis. Living with my aunt during the work week, I would often travel the 50 miles home on the weekends, and if I remember right, I earned $1.25 per hour. Many of us edging into the “geezer” stage in life would have similar stories.

I hated the job for the first two weeks, but then I grew to love the elderly people, even keeping a journal of the things they said that impressed me. Somewhere, in one of my boxes, I know I still have that journal. I learned some valuable lessons about work, people and saving money.

A friend who employed our children and other young people said he believes part of what he did when hiring these kids was to train them for the future. That is a big part of the function of those early jobs, providing a training ground for future employment.

When South Dakotans voted in 2014 by a 55 percent to 45 percent margin to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.55 per hour with an automatic adjustment for inflation each year, I believe the majority had in mind people working to support families, not necessarily the teenagers working to earn money for college, cars and clothes, while still living at home. And likewise, many people voting against it were likely opposed to the government dictating what a business owner pays his or her employees.

Nonetheless, the majority won out, and employers are required to pay the minimum wage. However, it seems to make sense to me that establishing a training wage of $7.50 per hour for youth under 18 years of age is a good idea. That is what Referred Law 20, SB 177 does.

Age discrimination? Maybe, but in the long run that valuable training can result in higher wages in the future.

The Congressional Budget Office has reported that when the minimum wage goes up, it can price the young job seekers out of the workforce. A Cornell University study has revealed that a youth training wage given to someone working part-time during their senior year can result in 20 percent higher annual earning after graduation compared to those who do not have that experience.

Small businesses in Hill City and Keystone employ many of these young people. Some young employees are in tune with what it takes to show up for work on time, work hard, and maintain a teachable attitude, but others are not. It makes sense to me that they are trained in the important things associated with having a job while they are still under their parents’ roof, preparing them for the future when they will need to totally support themselves.

In addition, it seems to me that small businesses are greatly stretched financially by having to pay the full minimum wage to all the youth summer employees. The business owners take the risk to hire young workers and the responsibility to train them right.

Will older workers be fired and young ones hired, so the businesses can get by with lesser wages? A safeguard is written into this law. It would “prohibit employers from taking any action to displace an employee or reduce an employee’s hours, wages or benefits in order to hire someone at the youth minimum wage.”

My inclination is to vote “yes” on Referred Law 20.

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