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A more family-friendly minimum wage

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Kansas City, Missouri, has now joined the ranks of cities and states determined to raise the local minimum wage.

“Kansas City officials voted to increase the minimum wage to $13 by 2020,” CBS St. Louis reported on July 22, “and that has a group in St. Louis calling on this city’s leaders to follow suit.”

Kansas City is joined by New York City, which also made headlines this week when it was announced that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is supporting a minimum wage hike to $15 for fast-food workers.

“The $15 wage would represent a raise of more than 70 percent for workers earning the state's current minimum wage of $8.75 an hour,” The New York Times’ Patrick McGeehan reported, also on July 22.

“Advocates for low-wage workers said they believed the mandate would quickly spur raises for employees in other industries across the state,” McGeehan continued, “and a jubilant Mr. Cuomo predicted that other states would follow his lead."

But a $2 difference isn’t the only thing that separates Kansas City’s approach from New York’s proposed legislation.

According to Slate’s Jordan Weissmann, Kansas City’s new law won’t apply to workers under the age of 18. It's a move that Weissmann thinks could set a productive standard across the country.

“Overall, this strikes me as a smart compromise,” Weissmann wrote. “A way to ensure that older workers with children earn something close to a living wage while shielding the people most likely to suffer the potential downside of a high minimum.”

And “the people most likely to suffer the potential downside” is younger workers. According to Weissmann, a higher minimum wage might incentivize the companies that rely mostly on younger, more unskilled workers, such as fast food restaurants, to hire older workers with more marketable skills.

And Weissmann may not be too far off base. According to U.S. News & World Report’s Aspen Gorry and Sita Nataraj Slavovo, recent studies have also suggested that young workers are the most vulnerable to job cuts if the minimum wage is raised.

“The harm done by minimum wage increases gets compounded for young workers because it prevents them from gaining experience,” they wrote in 2014, “thus increasing their chances of being unemployed in the future.”

A lower employment rate for minors, they argued, could have a devastating impact on the future economy because "such job losses harm these workers’ ability to gain valuable experience at a critical time in their careers and permanently damage their future employment prospects.”

But while Weissmann is optimistic that keeping the minimum wage lower for minors could help prevent the problems outlined by Gorry and Slovovo, there is still the potential for negative blowback.

“Could that nudge businesses to hire a few more 11th-graders instead of adults who are trying to support their families? It's possible,” Weissmann said. “But unless you think we should be actively pushing teens out of the labor force, it's also worth weighing the chance that a high minimum will end up denying young people some crucial early years of job experience.”

JJ Feinauer is a writer for Deseret News National. Email: jfeinauer@deseretdigital.com, Twitter: jjfeinauer.