Here’s a project for all unemployed young people – say, ages 18 through 21 – in America today. Go to a nearby supermarket or restaurant or lawn-care company or pet store and ask for a job at the minimum wage. If you are denied, offer to work for $4.00 per hour. The owner or manager will almost surely decline, saying that it’s against the law.
“Would you like to hire me at $4.00?” you ask.
“Well yes I would” is the answer you’re likely to get in reply.
“So, hire me at that wage. I’m an adult, I’m sober, and I have no mental issues. I’m willing to work for $4.00 per hour.”
“You don’t get it, kid. I can’t hire you at that wage. I’ll get fined, or worse. Go away.”
“Ok, I’ll leave. But no one – including you – will hire me at $7.25 per hour. What am I supposed to do?”
“Look kid. That’s your problem. I’m sorry. I don’t make the laws, but I gotta follow them. Go away now.”
I know that this is a realistic scenario because I have this conversation with employees all the time. Except in my case, applicants are generally not 18 years old but 70 years old.
A bit of background: My company operates campground and other recreation areas mainly using retired people who live on-site in their own RV's. Few of my 400+ employees are under 65 and several are over 90.
There are several reasons this conversation occurs:
- As my employees get older, and perhaps sicker with various disabilities, their work slows down to the point that it falls under our productivity expectations. Employees may come to me saying they want to stay busy but they know they don't work very fast but they would be happy to work for $5 or $4 an hour if they could just keep this job they love. (There is a Federal law that allows waiving of minimum wages for disability situations. We tried it -- once. The paperwork was daunting and the approval came 7 months after the application -- 2 months after the seasonal employee had already gone home for the year).
- Many people like to stay busy but face wage caps where they begin to lose their Social Security. They want to keep their total income under the wage cap. We try to create some jobs that require fewer hours so they can get their wages down that way, but in many cases we have a limited number of on-site living spots and a fixed amount of work such that each person occupying a living spot must do a certain amount of work to make sure it all gets done. So at some point we can't give them fewer hours, and then they will ask for lower pay.
I frequently have to tell people I simply cannot pay them less. They ask if they can sign a paper saying they want to be paid less, and I tell them something like "no, the law assumes you are a gullible rube and that I am evil and infinitely powerful so that if you sign a paper, it just means I forced you to do it." Which is all true, that is exactly the logic of the law.
People look at me funny sometimes when I say the minimum wage law limits employee rights by putting a floor on what they may charge for their labor. This is an odd way of putting it for them, because minimum wage laws are generally explained in the oppressor-oppressed model, but it makes perfect sense from my experience.