Missouri bill proposes lower minimum wage for teens

Per the bill, teens would make 75 percent of state minimum wage.
Freshman Robert Partyka passes a finished plate to a co-worker during his shift Sunday at Noodles and Company. If a bill, proposed by Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, passes through the Missouri Senate, state minimum wage for teenagers could be cut up to 25 percent.

Every two weeks, freshman Robert Partyka gets his paycheck from his part-time job at Noodles and Company. With a $7.49 per hour wage, 24 cents greater than Missouri's minimum wage, Partyka's checks average between $200 and $250.

But a bill in the Missouri Senate, sponsored by Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, would lower the minimum wage for teenage employees like 18-year-old Partyka. Although the bill is still in the Small Business, Insurance and Industry Committee, its passing would lower the minimum wage for teenage workers to 75 percent of the state minimum wage as long as the state minimum wage is not lower than the federal wage.

It would be effective Aug. 28 and expire three years later. Rep. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, proposed a similar bill in the House. If the bill went into effect today, the minimum wage for those younger than 20 would be about $5.44 per hour. Employers would not be able to displace their workers to hire teens at the lower wage, according to the bill.

After several attempts, Dempsey and Parson could not be reached for comment.

Partyka's parents cover his tuition and room and board, but he works so he can pay for food and social expenses. Two years ago, his mom was laid off and she hasn't been able to find work since.

"We're scraping for college," Partyka said.

Don Laird, vice president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said though Columbia is full of student workers, there are other hospitals and law firms less dependent on students.

"We are certainly a college-oriented community, but you have to remember, there are a lot of jobs not tied to college," he said.

As minimum wage increases, Laird said, businesses might have to make the decision to cut jobs.

"I would hope that it (the bill) would give more students jobs and opportunities," he said. "I don't know if it would support that."

The Missouri Budget Project, a low-income advocacy group that aims to improve economic conditions in Missouri, opposes the bill.

"We're concerned that there are a number of people over the age of 20 who depend on these jobs for their full-time employment," said Ruth Ehresman, director of health and budget policy at the organization. "We don't want to undermine the employment of adults."

The Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations does not support Dempsey's bill.

"We definitely support the current law in place," said department spokeswoman Amy Susán about the 2006 proposition, which Missouri voters passed with 76 percent.

This law raised the state minimum wage to $6.50 per hour or equal to the federal minimum wage, whichever is higher.

Looking to the future, Partyka knows that a lower minimum wage would change his plans.

"If I want to live on my own, which I plan to do, I couldn't do it on $5.45," he said. "I would have to pick up a lot more hours. I'd probably have to take less credits."

Partyka, from Gaithersburg, Md., is trying to earn the suggested income of $2,000 to be considered by MU for in-state residency and allowing him to pay in-state tuition. Paying in-state tuition would save Partyka more than $10,000.

As for his incentive to work at a lower minimum wage, "I would need a job, but it wouldn't be worth it," he said.

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