Many of us had a first job scooping ice cream, washing dishes, running amusement rides or ringing out purchases. We may remember demanding bosses, displeased customers, thankless tasks or making rookie mistakes. But one thing is certain — it was a critical first lesson in dealing with the public, showing up on time, following instructions and understanding how a business operates. It was an important stepping stone to where we are today. Unfortunately, many of those entry-level jobs will disappear as the minimum wage rises to $15 per hour in Massachusetts.
In vacation communities from Cape Ann to Cape Cod, small seasonal businesses that traditionally hire teenagers are finding it difficult to do so as the minimum wage rises precipitously. Those impacted the most are small shops, amusements, and restaurants. It’s very likely the owner can’t charge much more for an ice cream cone, a basket of fried clams, or a game of putt-putt. Families’ decisions on a vacation budget are discretionary. And the business owner’s chance to make a profit is limited to the summer season, and in the types of business where profits are minimal. Meanwhile, costs for rent, insurance, utilities, and supplies keep rising.
These fiscal realities put the business owner in a difficult spot. They want to hire teens, but it is no longer feasible, so instead those starter jobs are eliminated or worker hours are reduced. That is bad news for the tourist town, for vacationers, for the business, and certainly for younger, inexperienced employees.
One solution that is long overdue in Massachusetts is the implementation of a teen or training wage. That starter wage would allow employers to pay workers under 18 years of age a percentage of the minimum wage for a short period of time. A teen worker seeking summer employment could earn 80% of the state’s current $12 per hour minimum wage for 90 days. Thirty-nine other states have a teen or training wage, which puts Massachusetts in the minority. Such a law will incentivize Massachusetts’ small employers to hire younger workers, providing both summer jobs and that all-important first work experience.
Right now, there are several bills before the Massachusetts Legislature calling for a teen and training wage. Elected officials should embrace these proposals because teen jobs have been disappearing nationally and in Massachusetts. As the state minimum wage rapidly climbs, rising to $15 per hour by 2023, Massachusetts policymakers must reverse that trend by enacting a teen wage in the commonwealth.
Christopher Carlozzi is the state director of NFIB in Massachusetts, an association that advocates on behalf of small businesses and has thousands of members in the state.