Op-Ed | Jack Walsh: Wage idea shortchanges young workers

OPINION
OCTOBER 15, 2016
THE KITSAP SUN
JACK WALSH

I’m sure we can all recall our first job. It may not have been glamorous, but it helped us obtain the single most important requirement for our next job: experience.

When my family opened our ice cream shop five years ago, one of our primary objectives was to help teenagers prepare for the real world by helping them gain experience and providing the opportunity to develop a solid work ethic. Over those five years, we have hired more than 65 teenagers. For most of them this was their first job. It has been fulfilling to see many of them evolve from kids to productive young adults, well prepared to take further steps into the workforce.

Now comes I-1433, aimed at raising the minimum wage to $13.50 per hour over the next three years. The proponents — perhaps unintentionally — have not taken young workers into account. The greatest motivation for many of the young people I have hired is earning money for their first car or to go to the prom. Most of them are not thinking about how the value of the experience and the work ethic they are gaining will far outweigh the value of that first car or the prom. Sadly, the proponents of I-1433 are not thinking about it either.

Although the stated objective of I-1433 is laudable, in reality it kills the opportunity for teenagers to gain the valuable work experience that helps put them on the path for success in life.

I grew up in a farming community. My first job was on a farm earning minimum wage. Looking back, I suspect that my job performance barely merited minimum wage. If my employer had been forced to pay me 30 or 40 percent more, he would not have been able to hire me. The experience and the work ethic gained at my first job would have been delayed by years.

That same principle holds true with my business today. If I-1433 passes, I will no longer be able to create those jobs for teenagers. I will need to find experienced workers who already have the job skills and have a proven work ethic.

It’s never a good time to weaken the job prospects for young people, but at a time when Washington state is tied for having the eighth-highest unemployment rate in the nation it means that an entire generation is going to lose out. They will not be able to compete in the job market — and it’s already a tough job market for young workers.

We only have to look to Seattle — the test case for radically raising the minimum wage with a one-size-fits-all approach — for a preview of how I-1433 will damage the rest of the state.

The report commissioned by the city of Seattle on its newly implemented minimum wage showed workers are getting fewer hours and there are less jobs available — and that was only after the initial bump to $11 per hour. A University of Washington research team also found that nearly one-third of Seattle employers were coping with Seattle’s minimum wage hike by laying off workers. The impact of the full increase is going to be far, far worse.

I-1433 is a bad, one-size-fits-all plan that could cripple many businesses. This is not the type of policy and job market we want our young people to have to navigate. It is important that Washington is able to foster a job market that provides opportunities to all workers.

By rejecting I-1433 we can go back to the drawing board and come up with something that will not slam the door on young workers seeking experience or force small businesses such as mine to lay off workers, reduce hours, or worse, close their doors.

We need an entry-level wage policy that works. Unfortunately, I-1433 hurts workers and our economy. The right vote for Washington is to vote no on I-1433.

Jack Walsh owns Sub Zero Ice Cream in Federal Way.

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