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February 2, 2023

A Pay Cut Based on Age? Why Lawmakers Should Reject House Bill 1669

After years of advocacy and a recent win to strengthen Virginia’s minimum wage, a bill that further guts the minimum wage for minors is making its way through the General Assembly. House Bill 1669 seeks to lower the current minimum wage for workers under 18 years of age from $12 an hour to $9 an hour. The bill, put forth by Delegate Daniel Marshall, harms young people and their families during a time of rising costs that are straining the budgets of households across Virginia. HB 1669 not only fails to recognize that skilled labor is performed regardless of age, but it fails to recognize the purpose of minimum wage itself. This legislative session, lawmakers must do all they can to make sure Virginia’s youth are properly compensated for their labor and reject HB 1669.

Current wages for working young people in Virginia explained

During the 2020 session, lawmakers adopted legislation to increase Virginia’s minimum wage. The legislation gradually increased Virginia’s minimum wage to $12 by January 2023 and outlines a path to $15 by 2026, should the General Assembly re-approve further increases. 

Everyone 16 years and older is covered by current minimum wage law of $12 an hour unless they fall under an exempted form of work. In addition to those under 16 years of age, people who are excluded from Virginia’s current minimum wage law include:

  • Farm employees or farm laborers
  • Anyone under 18 who works for their parents
  • Summer camp counselors
  • Anyone under 18 enrolled in high school, college, or trade school who works 20 hours or less a week
  • Students on work-study; and
  • People who babysit less than 10 hours a week

Notwithstanding these exemptions, many young workers (16 and up) who work the longest hours and for whom work income is likely most important must be paid the current minimum wage of $12 an hour. If lawmakers pass HB 1669, young workers 16 and 17 years of age could be paid as little as $9 an hour – a 25% pay cut simply because of their age.

HB 1669’s impact on young people

HB 1669 harms Virginia’s young workers. Workers under 18 years of age face a wide variety of significant economic pressures, whether it’s saving for higher education, supporting family with the household bills, or generally working toward financial independence. Gutting wages of any household earner, including teenage children, is a blow to families when high inflation has made it harder to make ends meet. For example, $12 in January 2020 is worth about $10.41 today. Teenagers are already feeling the erosion of the dollars that they do earn – decreasing their minimum wage by a quarter greatly exacerbates that pressure.

Subminimum wage laws like HB 1669 threaten to accelerate inequity in Virginia. Stronger minimum wage laws make for a more equitable economy, as they have particular benefits for workers of color and women who are more likely to otherwise be paid very low wages. Higher minimum wage laws also help uplift working people in rural communities, since in their absence wages are often lower in those areas. In weakening the minimum wage for working youth, HB 1669 is a step backward that poses negative consequences for working young people of color, women, and people in rural communities.

HB 1669’s fails to recognize young people’s value and contributions

Lowering the minimum wage for any worker under the age of 18 also fails to recognize the skills and hours put in by the commonwealth’s young workers. Learning on the job never ends, regardless of job function or employee age.

We’re getting punished for showing initiative. I think youth should be paid the same minimum wage as their adult colleagues.

Felix Hedberg, Virginia high school student

HB 1669’s path in the General Assembly

The House Commerce and Energy subcommittee #1 voted 4-3 to pass HB 1669. House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, joined with two Democrats to oppose the bill. Many different advocates – including young working people – testified against the bill, and no one testified in favor.

I am 17 years old currently, but I’ve been working in my community since I was 14 years old. I have been fortunate enough to have the ability to save the majority of my paychecks to support my future plans for college and career…If this bill is passed, it would force many of my friends to take up multiple jobs to make ends meet…This bill would be detrimental to our Commonwealth’s youth.

​​Abby Garber, Coalition for Virginia’s Future, testimony to Subcommittee #1 of House Committee on Commerce and Energy

On January 31, the full House Committee on Commerce and Energy voted 10-9 to report HB 1669 to the full chamber. HB 1669 now waits to be heard by the full House of Delegates, where lawmakers have the opportunity to do the right thing and stop HB 1669 in its tracks. Should the House pass the bill, it will be sent to the Senate for consideration.

Takeaway: Lawmakers must reject HB 1669
Rather than creating new loopholes in Virginia’s minimum wage law with bills like HB 1669, lawmakers should be doing all they can to protect and preserve the wages of working people in Virginia. This includes passing legislation to “reenact” the 2020 legislation (HB 395) to achieve a $13.50 wage by January 2025 and a $15 wage by 2026. Shrinking the wages of the commonwealth’s young workers will only take us backward. Lawmakers should do right by Virginia’s youth and reject HB 1669.

Economic Opportunity

Mel Borja

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