RI State Senators Marc Cote (Democrat – District 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield (401) 765-3360) and Ryan William Pearson (Democrat – District 19, Cumberland, Lincoln (401) 276-5568), have introduced legislation S0289 that, if passed, would allow employers to pay an employee an “opportunity wage” which is described as “the greater or 75 percent of the state minimum wage rate, or the federal minimum wage rate to employees eighteen years or younger during the first 680 hours or 90 days of their employment.”
Under this act an employer could choose to pay an adult $9.60 or could get a kid to do the same work for $7.20. Better yet, at the end of the 90-day opportunity wage period, an employer could get another kid to do the job for $7.20 by firing the original hire under some pretense. That kid could then find another $7.20 opportunity wage job.
In a bad economy, minimum wage jobs are going to adults because money and jobs are scarce. The ready availability of adults, say proponents of the opportunity wage, means teens are not getting the jobs they need. This trend can be reversed by making it cheaper to hire teenagers. If the opportunity wage becomes law, the adults who need low-wage jobs to pay rent and childcare will be passed over for the cheaper labor of kids.
Cheaper wages gets money out the pockets of the working poor and into the pockets of employers, increasing inequality.
In a Facebook post, RI Senator Jeanine Calkin (Democrat – District 30, Warwick) did the math: “…since it would effect the first 680 hours worked, that equates to (based on a $9.60 current minimum wage – 75 percent of which is $7.20 an hour) a loss of wages equal to $1,632,” wrote Calkin.”That’s quite a lot of money for someone making minimum wage, especially to a young person that might be trying to supplement their families income in order to pay for clothes, shoes etc., or save money for college…
“The only ‘opportunity’ I see with this bill – is the opportunity for business to take advantage of young people in order to make even more profit. If this bill ever makes it to the Senate floor – I will be voting against it.”