Child labor repeal is bad for Maine youth

By Ed Mazurek, Erin Herbig and Rob Hunt
Posted April 25, 2011, at 8:43 p.m.

As coaches and teachers, we have the unique opportunity and the honor to help shape our students each and every day. We also see firsthand the challenges our youth face every day to focus on their schoolwork.

As lawmakers, we have the responsibility and duty to protect them and make sure we give them a fair shot to excel in school, so they can graduate, pursue higher education and find good-paying jobs.

That’s why we firmly oppose the repeal of Maine’s child labor laws that protect our minors from working long hours during the school week. Worse is a proposal that would pay them $2 less than the minimum wage.

The bill would allow employers to pay 16- to 20-year-olds $5.25 per hour for the first 180 days of work and increase the number of hours that students are allowed to work while still in school.

How does paying our students less to work longer hours help create jobs or support economic growth? It doesn’t. It will only undervalue our students and undermine our larger education goals that are directly linked to economic development in our state.

This law hurts youth and adults alike. If the proposed legislation passed as suggested, a young person working 20 hours per week would have to work 29 hours per week to receive the same paycheck. That’s nine extra hours a week that should be spent on school.

Since this bill would apply to college students as well, one has to wonder how they are expected to pay for tuition, housing, food and books on $5.25 an hour. We would like to see students focusing on their education — not working longer and later hours during the week for less pay.

Adult workers will be hurt by this bill as well. Since businesses in Maine cannot pay someone over age 20 less then the minimum wage, there is no way for adults to compete with the younger generation’s “training wage.”

Adult minimum wage earners – already living on a tight budget – will lose important hours, will lose important benefits (such as health care) when they are no longer needed to work their 40 hours, and this will have a ripple effect through the economy. The proposal does not support the economic stability and growth that the Republicans claim to be working for.

No one benefits from exploiting cheap labor. It has been argued that trainees should be paid less because businesses have to expend a lot of time and energy teaching them valuable skills and because, at least initially, they aren’t as valuable as employees.

This argument doesn’t hold up. Federal programs such as the Working Opportunities Tax Credit which provides companies up to $2,400 in tax credits to hire certain categories of unemployed individuals (such as first time youth) make it easy and sometimes lucrative to train new workers.

As is, the tax credit pays for the first 320 hours of employment – eight weeks of full-time work and plenty of time to train an individual for a minimum wage position. If this minimum wage bill were passed, the federal government would be using your tax dollars to pay for the first 457 hours – more than 11 weeks – of work for some youth.

It is illogical to believe that a bill that will take hours from hard-working, minimum-wage-earning, and often poverty-stricken adults in order to make young people work more hours for less money will be good for any Mainers.

Let’s keep Maine students in school where they belong, learning and creating a generation of educated Maine workers, and let adults continue to work their hours, building a strong Maine community and a stable economy.

Ed Mazurek, D-Rockland, is a retired coach and teacher. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, coaches the Belfast Area High School track team. Rob Hunt, D-Buxton, is a teacher at Bonny Eagle High School. All are members of the Maine House of Representatives.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/04/25/opinion/child-labor-repeal-is-bad-for-maine-youth/ printed on July 30, 2014