Baumgartner bills aim to reduce youth unemployment, increase future success for teens

Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane.

Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane.

OLYMPIA… A pair of bills sponsored by state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, aim to create more job opportunities as the state minimum wage reaches record heights and Washington teens find it harder than ever to obtain work.

Baumgartner’s “teen wage” and “training wage” bills were heard Wednesday by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, which Baumgartner chairs. The two measures aim to give employers a financial incentive to hire the least-experienced and least-skilled members of the Washington workforce.

“If we want to help our teenagers develop the work ethic, the work experience and the self-esteem they need to succeed in life, the best thing we can do is to get them employed,” Baumgartner said. “These bills recognize that as Washington’s minimum wage has increased, employers are increasingly reluctant to hire teenagers. And the situation is getting dire.”

During the hearing, business leaders said employers are forgoing teen job applicants for more experienced workers. They said employers find it increasingly difficult to rationalize hiring unskilled and inexperienced youths at the same rate as other workers. Washington currently has the highest state minimum wage in the nation.

“Last year 34 percent of youths age 16 to 19 were employed, down from 44 percent a decade ago,” Baumgartner said. “It’s not that they don’t want to work. It’s that it has become so expensive for employers to hire teenagers that opportunities are drying up. We need to fix that.”

Washington’s minimum wage now stands at $9.47 an hour for those age 16 and up, the result of a 1998 initiative that pegged the wage at a high level and mandated annual increases. Senate Bill 5421 allows employers to pay a summer “teen wage” to youths 14 to 19 years old, from June 1 to Aug. 1, equal to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The summer wage could only be paid to youths hired on a temporary or seasonal basis. Senate Bill 5422 would allow a training wage to be paid to youths age 16 to 19, pegged at 85 percent of the state minimum wage, or $8.05 an hour.