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Proposed Wage Hike Seen Having Minor Impact on Payrolls

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A proposed increase in the minimum hourly wage, which is being debated by Congress, would have only a minor impact on school payrolls, education groups say.

"I haven't heard a ripple," said Paul Houston, the executive director of the Arlington, Va.-based American Association of School Administrators. "Most of the people in schools are already making more than minimum wage."

Such an increase might have an effect in smaller, rural districts, said Jay Butler, a spokesman for the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va. But it would not likely be a major issue for large districts in urban or suburban areas with union contracts and a higher cost of living, he said.

According to the Department of Labor's employment-standards administration, school districts, like state and local governments, would be covered by a federal minimum-wage mandate. School workers such as cafeteria, maintenance, and administrative aides could be affected.

The issue has been in the headlines for over a month, as Democrats pushed the Republican congressional leadership for a vote on the proposal. The House approved a measure last month that would raise the hourly minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.15 over two years. The Senate has yet to vote on a minimum-wage provision.

Many business groups have argued that such a measure would force employers to cut back on their lowest-paid employees. "The lowest-skilled, least experienced people, the kind of people that look for entry-level jobs would be hurt the most," said Peter Eide, the manager of labor-law policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Students and Families

But Joe L. Greene, the president of the Washington-based American Federation of School Administrators, which includes members from large urban districts and low-income areas, said that an increase could help low-income families by boosting their income.

The minimum-wage measure could also have an impact on a large number of students, particularly those working at minimum-wage summer jobs.

As approved by the House, the minimum-wage language would permit employers to pay a "training wage" of $4.25 an hour to workers under age 20 for their first 90 days on the job.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are now 723,000 16- to 19-year-olds earning the minimum wage, and another 2.3 million who earn less than $5.15 per hour. Those teenagers make up 31 percent of all the country's workers who now earn less than $5.15.

And the working population of 16- to 19-year-olds is projected to balloon from 7.2 million to 9.7 million between April and July of this year as students take summer jobs, the BLS reports.

One former employment-training manager last week cautioned against belittling the importance of those jobs for many teenagers. Marion Pines, who is now a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said that low-income families often come to depend on teenagers' paychecks, no matter how small.

"They're talking about clothes money, rent money, and food," said Ms. Pines. "If there's one message I have, it's don't downplay those earnings because it's not play money."

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