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Mayors Hold Opposite Views On Youth Subminimum Wage

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Washington--Two mayors of heavily minority cities with high teen-age unemployment took opposing positions here last week on an Administration bill before the Congress to allow employers to pay youths a subminimum wage.

Mayor Marion Barry Jr. of Washington, speaking on behalf of the National Conference of Black Mayors, told the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources that such a program would generate 400,000 summer jobs for young people.

"Our association has come under considerable criticism from our associates who maintain such an experiment would displace adult workers," Mayor Barry added. "I am here to say that a number of young people have said to mayors, 'A job paying $2.50 an hour beats no job at all."'

Premise 'Faulty'

But Mayor Harold Washington of Chicago, appearing at a separate press conference held by members of the House Education and Labor Committee, said President Reagan, who has strongly pushed the idea, is "working to undo what was carefully crafted over the years" by the labor movement and may "wind up unraveling the whole cloth."

Mayor Washington argued that the premise for a subminimum-wage bill--which would allow employers to pay youths under 20 years old 75 percent of the minimum wage, or $2.50, between May and September each year--is "faulty."

"Clearly what is lacking is training," he said. "The reasons for unemployment are a lack of direction, motivation, a deep loss of faith in the system, and an unawareness of what the system has to offer."

The unemployment rate for black teenagers hovers around 61 percent in Chicago, Mayor Washington said.

Testing Period

Two bills, HR 1811, and S 797, were introduced in April in the House and the Senate, respectively. (See Education Week, April 10, 1985.)

The program would begin as a three-year test, Secretary of Labor William E. Brock told the Senate panel. "We can test the idea and evaluate it," he explained. "If modifications are necessary, we can make them. And if it doesn't work, we will put it behind us and move on to something else."

The bills also contain provisions that would prohibit an employer from discharging, transferring, or demoting an employee who is not eligible for the lower wage.

Drive Adults Out

But Mayor Washington warned that the impact of the legislation would eventually be to drive older employees out of the unskilled labor market.

He said he supported an alternative bill, HR 671, introduced by Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, Democrat of California, that would provide jobs for disadvantaged, unemployed teen-agers between 16 and 19 years old as an incentive for them to stay in school or return to school.

The bill, estimated to cost $2 billion in the first year, would require participating teen-agers to maintain minimum attendance and performance standards in school, remedial education, or job-training programs.

Ignores Current Law

Representative Hawkins said the subminimum-wage bills ignore provisions already in place under current law, which allows small businesses to pay less than the minimum wage, as well as under the Targeted Jobs Tax Credit program, which provides a federal subsidy to employers for hiring disadvantaged teen-agers.

The bills are "only a subsidy for the fast-food industry," Representative Hawkins said. "The sure impact would eventually be to lower wages all the way around. This is a cheap way to say, 'We did something for youth."'

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