Sixteen-year-old me was not worth $10.10 an hour

Still a student whose resume was a blank sheet of paper, I walked into work on my first day as an assistant leader at a children’s summer camp with no experience. I had no skills concerning supervising children or dealing with staff, and the first weeks were filled with my training by senior staff rather than me contributing to the program. I was hired as an investment in the hopes that at the end of training, I would be able to provide enough services that the camp would make a profit. With that investment, there was the risk that I would not be worth the minimum wage (which back then was around $7.25 an hour) I was being paid. Think about it – that is a high wage to pay a teenager who needs to be taught everything, starting with the fundamentals of showing up to work on time, especially when you are paying them to allow you to train them. If this is the case, should you be allowed to pay them less, at least until they can prove they can do their job? The government says no, through minimum wage legislation.

As a business owner, minimum wage places an artificial price tag on the returns you have to get from your investment in your new trainee. If you don’t foresee them being able to provide $10 worth of work nearly immediately after you hire them, then you will lose money on them. So, how do you avoid this problem? You stop training teenagers and you start hiring people with previous work experience. If you are forced to pay a minimum wage of $10 an hour, why hire a resume-deficient 16-year-old when you can hire a 20-year-old who has worked at a daycare and already has the training? And, if there isn’t an experienced worker currently applying, wouldn’t it be worth the wait to stretch your current staff a little thin until one comes along: just so you can avoid paying someone to teach them how to do their job? Absolutely.

If this is all so logical, then where do the effects of the minimum wage laws leave the 16-year-olds? Answer: Unemployed. Without being able to secure a job that provides training, someone new to the workforce has no opportunity to be trained or to gain skills that will move them up the ladder into bigger and better positions. Instead, companies are incentivized to hire people who can provide work that is worth the higher earnings that the government mandates – or just hire fewer people. Therefore, the very group that the legislators in Washington are attempting to help – the young, low-skilled worker – is the one hit the hardest economically.

Legislators believe that a minimum wage set at $10.10 an hour will result in giving low workers a raise. Instead, it results in many of them not being able to be hired in the first place. You have to be taken on as an investment in order to become an asset to your workplace. At 16 years old, I can say with absolute confidence that I was not worth $10.10 on my first day at work. Were you?