Are you an unemployed teen? Thank the AFL-CIO

Victor Joecks

Nevada’s teenage (16- to-19-year-old) unemployment rate is a staggering 34.5 percent, the second highest in the nation. And while many factors influence economic decisions and statistics like unemployment, Nevada’s inflated minimum wage is a substantial factor in teenage unemployment.

In Nevada, one of about a dozen states with a minimum wage higher than the national rate, minimum pay has jumped 60 percent since 2006, from $5.15 to $8.25 for uninsured hourly workers. (For hourly workers with employer-sponsored health insurance, the state’s rate equals the national rate.) The minimum-wage gains far outstrip broader pay trends, which have been flat.

Employers have responded to higher minimum wages in three ways: They’ve replaced their lowest-skilled workers with technology – consider self-checkout grocery lines – and they’re making higher-paid workers do more, such as restaurants asking waiters to bus their own tables. They’ve also gravitated toward more experienced workers. All of those approaches displace teens, Saltsman said.

Increased unemployment isn’t just hitting teenagers, it’s impacting all lower-skilled workers. Why?

Because if you’re a lower-skilled or inexperienced worker, often times you aren’t worth $8.25 an hour. But if individuals work hard for a year gaining skills and experience, many will end up earning more than $8.25 an hour. The tragedy is that Nevada government – through a constitutional amendment, no less – prohibits employers from hiring 18- and 19-year-olds (under-18 employees are exempt from the state minimum wage) at what they’re actually worth, thereby negatively impacting not just their ability to earn summer spending cash, but also their ability to gain valuable experience.

“A job is more than a paycheck. Some people call it an invisible curriculum,” said Michael Saltsman, a research fellow at the Employment Policies Institute, a nonprofit research group in Washington, D.C. “It’s what you get from learning to report to a manager, working with customers and assuming the responsibilities that come with that first job. Teens who don’t have that are taking a step back, and they’ll be at a disadvantage relative to their peers who have experience.”

And why does Nevada have a job-killing minimum wage enshrined in its constitution? Well, Danny Thompson, executive secretary treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO, brags on his bio that “Danny was also the architect of the successful Constitutional Amendment to raise the minimum wage in Nevada.”

While some voters also bear responsibility for approving the minimum-wage constitutional amendment in 2004 and 2006, Thompson and the AFL-CIO were the driving force behind the higher minimum wage and the loudest voice opposing Sen. Joe Hardy’s SJR2, which would have removed the minimum wage from the constitution.

So if the inflated minimum wage is so important, surely Thompson applied it to all union workers … right? Nope, Thompson and the AFL-CIO specifically excluded employees working under a collective bargaining agreement.

All of the provisions of this section, or any part hereof, may be waived in a bona fide collective bargaining agreement, but only if the waiver is explicitly set forth in such agreement in clear and unambiguous terms. [Emphasis added]

So while AFL-CIO lobbyists argue that repealing the minimum wage will take “income away from individuals struggling to put food on their tables,” they’re totally fine with taking that income away if those individuals are paying union dues.


Are you an unemployed teenager? Thank the AFL-CIO.