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State to reimburse employers with tax credits to offset burden of minimum wage hike

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Big-box stores, restaurants and hotels in Jefferson County could have reason to scoop up more teenagers to work part-time in the future, thanks to a reimbursement initiative in the state budget designed to lessen the burden of the minimum wage increase for employers.

Employers who hire seasonal employees will be rewarded with reimbursements when they hire teenage workers from 16 to 19 years old who are students. It’s a plan that has stirred up controversy in Albany, as some tourism advocates fear it would undercut the adult population of seasonal workers competing with students for jobs, said Gary S. DeYoung, executive director of the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council. Restaurants and hotels in the Thousand Islands region often hire teenagers during the summer.

“This would essentially recognize that high school kids that we’re hiring for the summer really don’t bring as much skill to the table as someone working year-round,” Mr. DeYoung said.

But he doesn’t think older seasonal workers will be at much of a disadvantage when compared with teenagers, because high school and college students aren’t available to work for the whole tourism season.

“School season doesn’t complement the tourism season,” he said, “because you can’t hire high school students until late June, and you lose college students in early August. I’ll get a tax incentive for hiring the young people, but I want someone who’s willing to be here for the four months during the season. A lot will prefer the older worker.”

Seasonal employers who are used to paying their staff less than $8 an hour, however, will have to find ways to recoup extra costs when the wage jumps. The minimum wage would increase gradually from $7.25 to $9 an hour by 2016 under the plan; it would jump to $8 in 2014 and $8.75 in 2015 before it peaks at $9.

“You’re going to have to decide if you can do with less staff, if your prices are going to increase, or to hire young versus old workers” to get tax credit, Mr. DeYoung said.

The Workplace employment agency in Watertown is a hot spot for teenagers seeking part-time employment. Timothy J. Maloney, the agency’s one-stop manager, said big-box stores and fast-food chains could change their hiring strategy to scoop up more teenagers, cashing in on tax credits as a result.

“They’ll do it, but I think it’s only going to go so far,” he said. “Teenagers can only work 30 hours a week during the summer months,” giving year-round workers an advantage.

The budget also includes a “minimum wage reimbursement credit.” The tax credits, to be calculated based on the number of workers paid minimum wage, will help employers offset increases by reimbursing them for a partial amount when the wage rises.

A concern about that policy, Mr. Maloney said, is that the tax credits could trigger so-called “maximum wage” for many staffers. In other words, employers will face the consequence of losing tax credits if wages are increased above the minimum wage.

“You hate to think that someone who makes $9 an hour isn’t going to get $9.50 because the employer will lose reimbursements,” he said. “Businesses are going to have to think about what they’re going to set the bottom wage at, because a lot of them have high turnover because it’s too low. I think the market is going to dictate that trend, and employers are going to figure it out if workers are leaving. Some might (not offer raises) at first, but if they want to stay in business, they’re going to need to.”

The rate at which employers are reimbursed with tax credits for workers paid minimum wage will rise gradually under the plan.

They would be compensated 75 cents an hour per employee when the minimum wage rises to $8 in 2014, and $1.31 an hour when workers are paid $8.75 in 2015. In 2016, when the minimum wage increases to $9, employers would be compensated $1.35 for three years.

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