Minimum Wages Are Rising Across the Country. Should They Apply to Minors?
The minimum wage is having a moment. As the cost of living sails past them, cities and states across the country are ditching the federal base and raising the pay floor to catch up. Last January, 11 states and the District of Columbia raised their minimum wage as the result of legislative action or voter initiatives. Twenty-nine states currently boast minimum wages above the federal rate, and cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and soon Los Angeles—whose city council is poised to raise the minimum wage to $15—have nearly doubled it. While the popularity of higher base pay isn’t surprising in blue states and progressive metropolises, the minimum wage is also inching up in solidly conservative places like, Arkansas, South Dakota, Alaska, and Nebraska. In some of those places—both blue and red—legislators have tried to make sure one group doesn’t benefit: minors.
South Dakota residents voted to raise the state’s minimum wage to $8.50 last year, but this March, Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed into law a bill that sets a separate, lower rate of $7.50 an hour for workers under the age of 18. (Unlike the wage hike, the minimum wage for minors will not annually adjust for the cost of living.) Last April, Minnesota folded a subminimum youth wage into its overall wage increase. The most recent example didn’t quite make it to the finish line: A bill in Nebraska designed to establish a lower minimum wage for student workers aged 18 and younger broke a filibuster and advanced through two rounds of debate before finally dying on the floor of the nonpartisan unicameral Legislature. State Sen. Laura Ebke, a self-proclaimed “Republican and conservative libertarian,” introduced LB599 just months after Nebraska voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour by 2016. Nebraska’s “Student Minimum Wage” proposal fell just four votes shy of the supermajority required under the state constitution to amend a law passed by public vote. Noting a “limited window of opportunity,” Ebke says she has no plans to reintroduce a similar bill in future legislative sessions.