A surefire way to suppress already low levels of youth employment is to raise the cost of employing younger workers. Some proposals in the Legislature would do that, in the name of helping these same workers.
One proposal, House Bill 125, would make it illegal to employ 16-and 17-year-olds after 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and after midnight Friday and Saturday during the school year.
Were this to become law, employers would be subject to fines of up to $2,500 each time a high school student clocks out a minute late. (These fines are seldom imposed, according to the state.)
State law currently caps at 35 the number of hours older teens can work during a five-day school week. HB 125 was intended to fix an oversight in a previous revision of youth employment law that inadvertently let teens ages 16 and 17 work up to 48 hours during shortened school weeks. But this particular attempt at a fix would inevitably trigger unintentional violations of state child labor laws.
The predictable effect of such a law would be to discourage the hiring of high school students, and to reduce the hours of those who are hired.
New Hampshire already limits youth under the age of 16 to working between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Adding a 9 p.m. curfew for older teens would further depress employment in this age group. Teen employment was declining sharply before the pandemic and fell again in 2020. It has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
With a precise time limit on the books, employers would be in violation of state labor law every time a teen doesn’t punch out on time. To avoid being written up for labor law violations whenever a teen gets distracted at the end of his or her shift, employers would end shifts earlier, hire fewer teens, or both.
As if intended to depress youth employment even further, House Bill 58 would raise the wage for tipped jobs to a minimum of $7.25 an hour. Currently, New Hampshire employers may pay wages as low as $3.26 an hour to employees who earn tips.
HB 58 would set the regular federal minimum as the floor for all jobs, even those with substantial tip income. Were this to become law, restaurants would have to pay all servers an additional $3.99 per hour. The negative effect on employment would be immediate and predictable.
A University of California-Irvine study published last August found that raising the tipped minimum wage reduced employment.
“(O)ur evidence is quite clear and unambiguous in pointing to higher tipped minimum wages (smaller tip credits) reducing jobs among tipped restaurant workers, without enough of an increase in earnings of those who remain employed to offset the job loss,” the authors found.
Other research has found that higher minimum wages reduced teen employment, and that “teens exposed to higher minimum wages since 2000 had acquired fewer skills in adulthood.”
Well-intentioned regulations such as those in HB 58 and HB 125 would end up worsening New Hampshire’s existing labor shortage and hurting the very people they are intended to help.
In 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 67,000 employed Granite Staters between the ages of 20-24. In 2022, that number was down to 52,000.
In 2019, the state estimated the number of waiters and waitresses in New Hampshire at 12,390. In last year’s report, it was down to 7,260, a decline of 41%, even though the entry-level wage was $1 per hour higher.
Restaurants, already pressed by rising supply, labor and energy costs, have been raising prices to maintain their meager margins. Add in a state mandate to more than double base pay for wait staff, and some restaurants certainly will be forced out of business. Others will raise prices even further. Restaurant prices rose 8.2% from January of 2022 to January of 2023, according to the National Restaurant Association. That’s higher than overall consumer prices, which rose 6.4%.
According to surveys of New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association members, servers in New Hampshire earn between $20-$45 an hour when tips are included. Granite Staters do tip generously, ranking fifth nationally and first in New England, according to Toast, a Boston company that provides software for point-of-service tablets used by the restaurant industry.
As New Hampshire employers struggle with a labor shortage, persistent inflation and predictions of a looming recession, artificially increasing the cost of employing younger and lower-skilled workers would add an additional burden. As that burden would be tied to the hiring of those workers, it would likely lead to reduced opportunities for them.
Hurting both employers and younger workers is not the intent of such regulations, but it would be the predicted outcome.