We believe that in Nebraska, hard work should pay. Our state was fortunate to survive the most recent recession better than many other states across the country. Our unemployment level in 2014 was the lowest it has been since 2008, and it was the 4th lowest in the country at 3.6%. However, many jobs that were lost during the recession were of median income, whereas the jobs that saw growth following the recession were primarily in low-wage occupations. This may be a contributing factor to the decrease in annual median family income. In 2013, the median family income was $64,763 annually, approximately a $900 decrease from the previous decade, adjusted for inflation.
Due to shrinking median income, families must work harder in order to make ends meet and provide for all of their basic needs. Our Family Bottom Line Report shows that depending on where they reside in Nebraska, a family with two adults, an infant and a preschooler would need anywhere from $39,313.77 to $51,971.26 annually in order to cover all of their expenses. About a third of Nebraska families make $35,000 or less annually, which falls below the family bottom line for the majority of geographical locations and family types. In these cases, a third contributor to the family income is necessary to meet basic needs for the family.
In some cases, children of working parents will have to work their own jobs and earn money to contribute to the family budget. This is a major reason why LB 599 is not a sound policy decision. Introduced by Senator Ebke, LB 599 would decrease the minimum wage for young student workers, making it lower than the statewide minimum wage that was just increased by the majority of Nebraska voters in 2014. Taking income away from student workers could have a substantial impact on these young people’s families and their ability to make ends meet.
Furthermore, some young student workers are working to save up money to attend college. With already sky-high college tuition prices rising, young people that come from families struggling to make ends meet have little opportunity to further their education and achieve long term goals. Decreasing their earning capacity would exacerbate this disadvantage that they face and widen the opportunity gap between higher income individuals and those from low or middle class families.
Finally, the bill only allows a lower minimum wage to be paid if the young person is in school. For young people who are struggling financially, this means that they could earn more in the short run by dropping out of school, and we know from research on brain development that teenagers are not fully equipped to make the best decisions related to their long term well-being. This especially creates a dropout incentive for teen parents who are working to support a child.
For all these reasons, we hope that the Nebraska legislature will oppose LB 599 and won’t devalue our young people by saying that their work is worth less solely based on age. If you agree, consider contacting your state senator, and asking him or her to oppose LB 599.