Youth Wage in Polk County Designed to Save Youth Jobs, Advocates Say

DES MOINES, Iowa - Should Iowa workers under the age of 18 be paid less than their adult counterparts? That's one question under review by the Polk County Board of Supervisors as it looks to approve a minimum wage hike.

"All minors under the age of 18 have job restrictions," said Michelle Hurd, president of the Iowa Grocery Industry Association. "The restrictions placed on minors are substantial. They're set, monitored, and enforced by state and federal employees."

The Iowa Grocery Industry Association lobbied for a "youth wage" to come with a minimum wage increase in Polk County. Workers ages 14-17 would make 85 percent of whatever the minimum wage hike would be that year; that means, if the wage increase proposal of $10.75 an hour over the course of three years is approved, youth workers would make $7.44 in 2017, $8.29 in 2018, and $9.14 in 2019. The association backs a youth wage because of legal limits to what underage employees can do, and how long they can work.

"We're talking to the grocery people, and they're saying, 'Quite frankly, if you end up giving them the same wage, we're going to hire the adults because they can do more work,'" Polk County Supervisor John F. Mauro said. "Makes a lot of sense."

But Mauro and his peers have taken some heat from younger workers in Polk County, who claim no meetings were scheduled outside of school hours - effectively shutting out the youth voice in this conversation.

"I see their argument," he said. "So tonight, I'm going to meet them at 6:30 and I'm going to say to them, 'Okay, here's where I'm coming from. How are we going to try and make this work?'"

Some opponents of the youth wage claim it's age discrimination to pay a younger worker less.

"Probably not," said Drake University law professor Mark Kende. "The basic age discrimination statutes require you be at least 40, so that younger people actually can be treated differently and can be - if you even want to say it this way - discriminated against."

Youth wage advocates will tell you this is about saving youth jobs.

"It's in the best interest of youth in our state to provide young people with first-time job experiences," Hurd said.

And while that may not change the hearts and minds of those opposed to the youth wage, it's safe to say a youth wage is coming for Polk County, should the board approve the minimum wage hike at its third and final meeting on October 11.

"Let me ask you this question - okay, so you've got the youth making the same as the adult. Who should be screaming? The adult, because he can do more work," Mauro said.

The Polk County Board of Supervisors will meet for its third and final time on the minimum wage hike on Tuesday, October 11 at 9:30 a.m.