Proposed Bill in Michigan Would Lower Minimum Wage for Workers Under the Age of 20

Posted: Jan 29, 2016 3:10 PM

A proposed bill in Michigan would permit employers to pay employees under the minimum wage if they are under the age of 20. Currently, employers in Michigan are legally allowed to pay someone under the age of 18 around 85 percent of the current minimum wage, but this bill would expand that to everyone under the age of 20. Workers under the age of 20 who are already employed could not have their wages lowered under the bill.

Under current law, employers can pay people under 18 either 85 percent of Michigan's minimum wage or the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater. Senate Bill 250 would change that to include all employees under 20.

Michigan's current minimum wage is $8.50 per hour. If the bill were to go into effect today, employers could pay people under 20 the lower federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Sponsoring Sen. Margaret O'Brien, R-Portage, said she'd talked with young people about how hard it was to find that first job. The bill could give employers an incentive to take a chance on a young employee.

"We want to get their foot in the door... if they can get their foot in the door and get the training and experience they need then their wage will go up to minimum wage or higher," O'Brien said.

In Michigan, 3.8 percent of hourly workers earned at or below the minimum wage.

Reactions to the proposed bill are decidedly mixed, and there's a growing youth coalition that is against the measure:

But Arkema said people his age see it as a way to pay people less for doing the same work as older employees.

"I've got friends who are on the far right of the political spectrum and on the far left and they all, virtually, agree that this is not good for them or any high school students," Arkema said.

His group has started an online petition seeking 100 signatures, with 26 so far. The group will also be contacting other Michigan high schools to get the word out about the bill.

"We're coordinating with all the local chapters and getting them to go out into their high schools and their communities," Arkema said.

Most of Europe and Australia operates under a graduated-wage system, so this proposed bill isn't entirely unfounded. With a relatively small percentage of hourly workers even subjected to minimum wage, and the youth unemployment rate at all-time highs, it makes sense to increase the incentive for an employer to hire a younger worker.