Washington state has one of the highest teen unemployment rates in the nation at 17 percent. It has a staggering 37 percent unemployment rate for African-American youth.
Anyone out there who has teenagers understands how difficult it is for them to find work. I have seen my own children go through the frustration of trying to earn money for college, be independent or have some spending money. Unfortunately, current laws and the economy have made it extremely difficult for our youth to get a job to accomplish any of those things.
This session I proposed a bill to establish a training wage solely aimed at reducing the youth unemployment rate. My bill did not survive the cutoff deadline, but the companion bill, Senate Bill 5275, is still moving. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation being spread about the bill in the media.
The bill simply tries to get more young people working. It does not reduce anyone’s current wage and it does not reduce the minimum wage. It simply allows employers who have 50 or fewer employees to pay a training wage to a new employee. The wage would be 75 percent of the state minimum wage or the federal minimum wage whichever is greater. Right now that would be $7.25, not the $6.89 that has been reported. We also agreed to keep the age range from 17 to 19 year-olds. This will keep the focus on where our unemployment is the highest and at an age range where many people are anxiously seeking work.
Other misleading information being spread about this bill is that it just gives employers an opportunity to get around paying full wage to employees and that they can continually substitute “training wage” employees for those who are currently receiving full-wages. Untrue. The bill only allows a training certificate to be used once per employee; training wage employees many not be more than 10 percent of an employer’s workforce; and if an employer discharges a training wage employee who has worked fewer than 680 hours, the employer must notify the Department of Labor and Industries, provide an explanation why, and the training wage employee cannot be replaced for one year.
Finally, some question why the bill sets a 680-hour limit. Shouldn’t it only take a couple weeks to train an employee? In some cases, yes. However, by using the 680-hour threshold, it provides a potential benefit to the training-wage employee, and an incentive to the employer to keep the employee on at full wage. The amount of hours (680) would make the employee eligible to collect unemployment if they are not hired at the end of their training period. It also encourages the employer to hire the training wage employee after the training period or they would have to pay unemployment costs on that person.
We need to be proactive in getting people of all ages back to work. This is just a small step to provide our younger people an opportunity to get their foot in the door, work and earn money. Right now, their option is “no job – no opportunity.” With this bill at least employers could provide “a training wage job – with the potential to move into full employment.” In my 28 years as an employer, I watched the entry level jobs decrease as the minimum wage increased, and with it the ability to train new employees.
For those who do not like this option, I am open to other suggestions, but we need to stop with the political statements and start offering solutions so we can provide more employment opportunities for those who are seeking work.
Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, has served on the House labor committee since 2003, and as the ranking Republican for eight of those years. He has also been a small business owner for over 30 years and trained many employees.