Oklahoma student leaders propose a realistic minimum wage (Guest Post: Andrew T. Hocutt)

Andrew T. Hocutt is a junior at Rogers State University studying Political Science and Public Administration. He was a 2015 participant in OK Policy’s Summer Policy Institute, and he serves as Chairman for the Rogers State University delegation of the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Legislature.

Poor wages in terms of peanuts.
Poor wages in terms of peanuts.

Since 2013, substantive reforms to several state and local minimum wage systems have been implemented across the United States. Advocacy groups such as Fast Food Forward  and Fight for $15  have steadily been gaining popular support and successfully driving the movement to raise the minimum wage into the political forefront. While the movement has seen notable success in U.S. cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City, other cities and rural areas are having difficulty garnering support behind the idea of the $15 livable wage.

In Oklahoma it has proven especially difficult to achieve a higher minimum wage. In 2014,  Oklahoma legislators  approved SB 1023, immediately and indefinitely ending local-control of minimum wage policies for every city and town in the state. The pretense for this policy was the fear that allowing municipalities to increase the local minimum wage would drive businesses out of communities and possibly even the state.

Many supporters of SB 1023 argued that employees earning minimum wage are working entry-level part-time jobs and that those employees are mostly young, single people who rely on their parent’s income. While there is quite a bit of evidence to refute this claim, it is a misconception that is consistently used during arguments regarding the minimum wage  Therefore this misconception must be addressed if Oklahoma is to implement realistic policy reforms.

While attending the 2nd Session of the 47th Oklahoma Intercollegiate Legislature (OIL), I presented The Oklahoma Graduated Minimum Wage Act of 2015, which I wrote as a direct response to this misconception.  With passage of the Oklahoma Graduated Minimum Wage Act, the state would begin to transition towards a graduated minimum wage system, consisting of three  wage brackets based upon the societal needs of employees of different ages. The legislation proposes an initial increase to $8 an hour for the first minimum wage bracket, and then increases the minimum wage of employees by $1 each time employees enter a new age bracket.

Employees under the age of 18 make up the first minimum wage bracket.  Minor youth are generally still dependent upon their parents and are least likely to rely solely upon their own source of income.  Employees between the ages of 18 and 24 make up the second minimum wage bracket. Under the Graduated Minimum Wage Act of 2015, these employees would make a minimum wage of $9 per hour. When individuals reach the age of 18, they are legally regarded as adults and become more reliant upon their own sources of income. Between 18 and 24, workers are often expected to earn enough to pay for their own housing, food, tuition for college or CareerTech, and other necessities of life and self-improvement. Employees under the age of 18 who have been emancipated by the court system are also considered to fall under the second minimum wage bracket.

Finally, at the age of 25, many American workers are entering the workforce out of post-secondary education, purchasing their own homes, and/or beginning to take steps towards starting their own families. Thus the final minimum wage bracket is made up of employees 25 years of age or older.  These employees would be paid no less than $10 per hour, which would help keep service employees from falling into poverty, increase their purchasing power, and deter reliance upon taxpayer subsidized programs such as SNAP.

After three hours on the floor caucusing and debating, the bill initially failed the OIL Senate by a single vote. However, following a motion to reconsider, it successfully passed the Senate, gained overwhelming support in the House of Representatives, and was finally signed by the Governor of OIL. The time and effort my fellow delegates and I put into this legislation earned it the award for Best Legislation in the Senate. However, what was most important  and satisfying to me was the overwhelming consensus that a graduated minimum wage proposal could be presented in the Oklahoma State Legislature, that it is a viable and realistic alternative to standard minimum wage policies, and that delegates of numerous political opinions were able to support the idea as a realistic solution to help Oklahoma employees and the state’s economy.

The opinions stated above are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

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The opinions stated in guest articles are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

One thought on “Oklahoma student leaders propose a realistic minimum wage (Guest Post: Andrew T. Hocutt)

  1. It is good to see voting age students taking up issues like these.
    I appreciate the thought behind a graduated minimum wage – but you might want to look into how many adults between 18-24 are supporting families and actually working these types of jobs.

    I work in a training-to-employment program in Oklahoma for single parents and the majority of my participants fall into the age bracket 18-24 with 1-3 children in their home. It may be that a 2 tier system would be the most beneficial or a jump of $2.00/hr within each bracket.


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