The Arizona GOP doesn’t want you to be exploited too much by your employer—as long as you’re old enough.
On Wednesday, the Arizona House of Representatives’ Committee of the Whole voted to pass legislation to address a new category of “youth employment” by lowering wages for everyone under 22 years old. Under HB 2523, employers would not have to pay workers between the ages of 16 and 22 working 20 or fewer hours a week the current state minimum wage of $11 and would only need to meet the federal minimum of $7.25.
A number of Democrats spoke against the bill—Reps. Pamela Powers Hannley, Diego Rodriguez, Isela Blanc, Richard Andrade, Reginald Bolding, and Cesar Chavez all voiced opposition on the House floor, with Andrade bluntly calling the bill a form of discrimination. Blanc and Powers Hannley, per the Arizona Capitol Times, claimed the bill would go against Proposition 206, which was passed by Arizona voters in 2016 with the express purpose of raising the wage floor and improving paid sick leave. Prop 206 increased the state’s minimum wage from $8.05 to $10 in 2018 and then $11 in 2019, with a raise to $12 set for 2020.
Unfortunately for workers, the Arizona House is currently in the hands of the GOP by a slim 31-29 margin, so the bill passed the committee by a margin of 30-29. In arguing in favor of underpaying young people, Rep. Travis Grantham, the Republican who introduced the bill, lazily tried to connect youth unemployment with the need for shitty wages.
“We have close to a 12 percent youth unemployment,” Grantham said, according to the Capitol Times. “Why are you against somebody who’s under 22 years old, who works less than 20 hours a week, who’s going to school full time, my child in high school, why are you against that person having a part-time job?”
It’s worth noting here that not all those affected would be students, as Grantham conveniently leaves out—per the New York Times, the average age of first-time mothers in Arizona is 23.4 years old, meaning at least 50 percent of mothers in Arizona are younger, and those that work part-time would potentially be subject to the $7.25 wage.
Watching politicians fail to own each other and staring at a list of numbers is great and all, but the best way to understand why this is such a terrible idea is to listen to the people this would actually affect. Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA) interviewed several young workers about how a $7.25 hourly wage would hamstring them financially. Here’s a high schooler named Shannon:
LUCHA also organized a protest outside Republican Rep. Jeff Weninger’s sandwich shop, Dilly’s Deli. Here’s testimony from Brenda Alvarez, a high schooler who also works part time:
Again, the numbers don’t bode well for the opposition—the GOP also owns the state Senate by a 17-13 margin—but hopefully the workers, young and old, raise enough hell to convince legislators how truly stupid this idea is.