We all know there’s perhaps no job more important to land than that first part-time job as a teenager, whether that job be on a farm, in a local convenience store, or at a restaurant. For me, I began working closely with my father at a very young age, helping him assemble furniture for the family business, going out on deliveries, and completing countless other tasks as needed until I became a teacher at 23.
While learning a lot about how a successful business is run, I also learned how to be accountable, how to manage my personal finances, how to show up on time, how to behave like a professional, and, most importantly, how to work hard.
When my children were younger, they also put their time in at the family furniture store, and, just as I eventually took the business over from my father once he retired, my son is now in the process of taking the reins.
While my family’s situation is a bit unique, it is clear that employment opportunities for teenagers and young adults are on the decline as the minimum wage continues to increase at an unsustainable rate. In the last two years alone, the rate has increased by $2.50 and it is scheduled to increase by another $2 over the next two years, with the minimum wage automatically ratcheting up each year after that.
This means that within four years’ time, the minimum wage in Maine is scheduled to increase by a staggering 60 percent. Many small businesses around the state are struggling to stay in the black as their labor costs soar. To compensate, many businesses are reducing their hours of operation, increasing the price to consumers, and reducing the size of their workforce.
In the meantime, teenagers are being priced out of the job market altogether.
That’s why Rep. Joel Stetkis introduced L.D. 1757, “An Act To Protect Maine’s Economy by Slowing the Rate at Which the State’s Minimum Wage Will Increase and Establishing a Training and Youth Wage.”
This bill, which is currently before the Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development Committee, received a public hearing in January, drawing a large crowd of nearly 100 people, including many business owners from around the state.
Fielder’s Choice, an ice cream stand with four locations that employs more than 150 high schoolers, said that with each wage increase, they must also increase the price of their ice cream, and since people are only willing to pay so much for ice cream, their sales are beginning to decline.
Last season, their sales fell by 5.8 percent and they testified that, “The decline in sales is entirely attributed to the sharp increase in our labor costs being passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.” They went on to say that, “When we are forced to pay a 15-year-old child $12 per hour in 2020, I am certain that Fielder’s Choice Ice Cream will no longer be viable as a takeout ice cream stand.”
That will result in a loss of 150 positions that are currently held by school-age teenagers.
Steve Crocker, owner of the North Whitefield Superette, said, “This law, if not amended, will make it more difficult for high schoolers and other young people to get any kind of job. Who wants to hire a kid at $11 or $12 an hour, and then train them, only to have them leave for college or another job as soon as they graduate from high school?”
Bob Craft, store manager of Bell’s Orono IGA, testified that, “Payroll is a huge expense for any store. I strongly feel these changes are necessary. If nothing changes, as the minimum wage increases, I predict a lot of small businesses folding up as they cannot afford payroll.”
These aren’t large corporations with millions in assets and CEOs who are paid six figures. These are your small mom-and-pop shops, your local diner or the small ice cream stand on the corner. They provide important employment opportunities for our youth, preparing them for the real world, and they are struggling under the minimum wage law that passed in 2016.
While I understand that the people voted to increase the minimum wage, the law, as written, goes too far too fast, and as a result, the job market for school-age teenagers is disappearing.
(Sen. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, represents all of Lincoln County except Dresden, plus Washington and Windsor. He is the Senate chair of the Taxation Committee and also sits on the Insurance and Financial Services Committee.)