As a student trying to pay my way through school, I know I have been blessed to land a summer job at all, much less somewhere I am passionate about. Last year (2010), youth employment was lowest since 1949, having dropped 17.5% from the year before (2009). Interesting to note is that the minimum wage was last raised in the summer before, in 2008. Earlier in history, data from shows that at least 20,000 jobs were eliminated by the 1996 hike. This appears to be a pattern.
Minimum wage is definitely not the sole cause of the terrible unemployment numbers in the state today; the whole of Michigan has been suffering, especially after the collapse of the auto industry. The key to moving beyond failing industries is to support Michigan’s other businesses and encourage the establishment of new ones. When minimum wage is raised, the effects reach these businesses. Common summer employers, like farmers or resort owners, will readily admit to relying on the kids they employ in the summer to keep the business going. A higher minimum wage can discourage them from hiring too many employees or even be enough the shut them for good if they cannot afford the extra pay.
Interestingly enough, Michigan is one of the few states which allow younger workers to be paid less than minimum wage. When a business is paying less, it is able to afford more workers. If less pay seems unfair, another beauty of a free market is the ability to walk away from a job if one doesn’t wish to live off its pay.
As a student, I am often willing to work cheaper. My younger brother who is looking for a job is willing to work for cheaper. I know students who have happily worked for a stipend less than minimum wage. I understand the importance of being able to support a family on a wage; this was the intent of the first wage law. However, I don’t think it would be all bad to have the freedom to choose to work for less if that is what it takes to be competitive and earn money for college.