Restaurants are a pipeline of employment for teens. However, with the passage of Initiative 1433, there is less of a safeguard for young workers. I-1433 makes it difficult for employers to offer starting jobs. It is critical that we consider how to include a training wage in the new law.
In 2016, President Barack Obama, along with many others, participated in the First Jobs campaign because it is clear starting positions are important. The president spoke of his first job scooping ice cream: “My first summer job wasn’t exactly glamorous, but it taught me some valuable lessons. Responsibility. Hard work. Balancing a job with friends, family and school.”
Teens also acquire basic life skills from a first job, such as doing dishes, mopping floors, vacuuming and even how to dress and participate in a job interview.
These jobs are especially needed in poor communities. Limited access to jobs can result in academic disengagement, lack of career awareness, and planning and poor preparedness for available careers.
Entry-level jobs introduce people to the workforce and also impact the trajectory of their lives. A Pew Charitable Trusts report noted that every year people work in their teens, their income rises 14 to 16 percent in their 20s. So these first jobs aren’t only important for the employee themselves, they’re vital to the economy as successful young workers funnel money into their communities.
But, starting on Jan. 1, 2017, teens in Washington will be paid $11 per hour; except for 14- and 15-year-olds. Therefore, teens 16 years of age and older will make exactly same amount as an experienced worker. This expense is in addition to other costs with teens such as training, permits and restrictions from certain elements of the job (such as cooking). The learning process can be costly. When the average restaurant only brings in $33,000 profit before taxes, and employs 20 or fewer people, choosing who to hire matters.
Yet despite these challenges, restaurants have always hired teens. Why? Because, restaurants invest more in people than any other part of their business. Local restaurants care about giving people the chances that were once given them. When you offer a young person his or her first job, what you’re saying is: I believe in you.
The previous state law protected a restaurant’s investment in youth by offering a different starting wage. This wage gave businesses more flexibly and less risk when helping teens get a start.
We need a teen wage to be added to I-1433. We need to support neighborhood restaurants so they can hire young people and give them an opportunity to move up in the world. We need to continue to hire teens so that Washington state thrives and our future is bright.
Phil Costello owns Zips Pizza in Spokane and is board chairman for the Washington Hospitality Association in Olympia.