April 28, 2014
Work is good for people. Why do we want to make it more expensive? I've worked for colleges, schools and summer camps for the past 35 years, and I can tell you that working at jobs is a better education for most teenagers than school or sports. Americans could hire more inexperienced teenagers if we could pay them what they are worth. An inexperienced average American teenager is worth about $4 or $5 an hour. When we have to pay more, we hire college students, or experienced workers.
Special Needs teenagers have a similar problem. Work provides wonderful structure for Special Needs teenagers. Special Needs teenagers can help get things done, but if minimum wage is $7.50 an hour, those teenagers get fewer hours. What they need are more hours. Less pay is irrelevant because with teenagers of all kinds, work is a great education. Work is good for teenagers, and making employers pay more for it, reduces the number of hours teenagers get to work.
We're pricing our entry level jobs out of existence. I live in a cold climate where having someone pump gas would be a wonderful service. Elderly people would LOVE to trade self-service for full service. At some price, full service would come back, but not at $7.50 an hour.
Having more clerks to help us find things in stores would be a helpful service. But as minimum wage goes up, it eliminates many entry level store clerk jobs giving the advantage to internet buying where you don't get any more service, but prices are lower. With $10 minimum wage rules, all sorts of customer service, receptionist, watchman, and entry level work gets phased out by automation. Waitressing, dishwashing, flipping hamburgers, and receptionist work build character. Retired people and teenagers might like to be working as store clerks if stores would hire more clerks. Employment is good for workers. Get rid of minimum wage of any kind, and let's help more teenagers, Special Needs teenagers, and elderly people go to work.
There are times in our lives when work is fun and valuable. Why does the government have a role in making it more expensive? If an organization can get my son to do something useful for $5 an hour, why is that the government's business?
Making more money to earn a living wage is not the job of a minimum wage law. That's the cultural responsibility of colleges, churches, and society to instill in business owners a sense of charity to pay well, and for families, churches, and society to instill in young adults a sense of motivation to get the skills they will need to become self-reliant. Raising the minimum wage is another form of Big Brother leadership instead of Bully Pulpit leadership.
If you want to lower unemployment, reduce poverty, and reduce crime, then lower the minimum wage. The structure, education, and discipline of jobs are valuable to bored teenagers who do not like school, and to urban teenagers who get into mischief when they are hanging out on the streets with other unemployed teenagers. Entry level jobs get teenagers started on the way to make a living, and they also have the added effect of making teenagers hustle to get better jobs. There is a responsibility of the worker to get skills that will be in demand in the market, and entry level work in companies or organizations lets teenagers see and learn how that works. $10 an hour might be someone's pipe dream about a living wage; $4 an hour or even $3 an hour is the reality of an educational training wage where an employer could take a risk and take the time to teach some people with low education or low experience how to work effectively.
The beginning of the pay scale should be open to negotiations between employers and workers without governmental creation of a $10 starting line. I started out mowing lawns, shoveling walks, babysitting, and washing dishes. Dealing with cranky old people who had gone through the Great Depression and wanted their lawns mowed for 50 cents was good for me. Some of the work I did was charitable to help older neighbors. You get the best education of how to work, and you also do some of the best community service you'll do in your life, with low wage work. Forget raising the minimum wage. We should help get people to work and help get more valuable work done by lowering, or better yet abolishing, the minimum wage.
Peter Slovenski has been a college track coach and children's summer camp director in Maine since 1988. He is a 1979 graduate of Dartmouth College, and is the author of the book "Old School America".
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