Below minimum wage: why Evanston pays teens less than adults

Tamara Guy , Staff Writer

As the school year has begun, many of us have wrapped up our summer jobs and received our last paychecks. 

Each summer, many youth in Evanston find their jobs through the Annual Mayor’s Youth Summer Job Fair or by working for the City of Evanston. Many students in Evanston are encouraged to find a summer job through the program because it offers a variety of choices. The fair provides summer jobs, but also makes it more accessible for the Evanston youth to earn money. Additionally, giving young people access to this experience can help them enormously in the future.

“I enjoyed working at Robert Crown a lot over the summer. It was really a good experience and the campers were really fun,” says junior Halle Hall-Latchman.

As a person whose parents provide a lot of necessities for them, I am fortunate to not have to pay many expenses as I am still under their care, but many young adults in Evanston depend on these jobs in order to support their families and help pay bills. 

“I decided to work there because I knew I wanted to be a camp counselor for the summer because I love kids. When I got the opportunity, I took it,” Hall-Latchman says.

This summer, I worked through the City of Evanston and was upset to find out that I would only be making $8.50 hourly because, according to Cook County, the minimum wage is $12.00 an hour. $8.50 is often not sufficient for those who are providing for their families. It also allows the city to under-pay students in positions that would be filled by adults who are getting paid the full $12. 

Junior Bernice Olla-Chatman, who worked through the Summer Youth Employment Program this past summer, says she was unsure if she would work through the program again.

“It’s kind of iffy,” Olla-Chatman says. “Try to get a job you actually like, because I liked my job, but I feel like I was doing more work than what I was getting paid for.”

In an interview with The Evanstonian, Nathan Norman, a City of Evanston Program Coordinator for the Youth at the City of Evanston, explained that he provides a lot of support to the youth, specifically when finding jobs. The job fair offers a large variety of jobs; from summer camps to interning at Northwestern, they try to provide opportunities for everyone. 

When asked about the reasons for the program start, Norman says that before the program’s creation teen crime rates were at its highest, but once the program had begun, teen arrest dropped by 435 people, from 1992 until now. He explained that most of these arrests had to do with money-related crimes and that the job fair intended to provide these teens with employment, which would address some of the systemic issues around money and would hopefully mitigate such crime. Because the program is federally funded, Norman explains that this enables them to pay the youth federal wages. 

During an emergency council meeting in 2017, it was discussed that up until 2020, the minimum wage will be raised by $1.00 each year, making this year’s minimum wage $12.00. In Section 42-12 it is stated that “This Chapter will not apply to hours worked: for any subsidized temporary youth employment program.”

According to the Illinois Department of Labor, youth wage in Illinois is $7.75 an hour and legally, this is what the government pays youth. Few jobs for teens are paid wages that are minimum wage or more. Since most jobs through the job fair are paid for by the program, teens are given wages that are below minimum wage in Evanston, and are getting paid federal wages. 

When asked about the future of the program, Norman said that they are working on increasing the pay for the youth. 

The job fair provides many opportunities for the youth in Evanston to receive work, and helps our community better itself in many ways. However, many students believe that they should be given the same pay as our coworkers because they are just as valuable as adult workers.

“Even though I enjoyed working there, it was a lot of hard work, and I don’t think that the pay was high enough for the work we had to do,” says Hall-Latchman. 

Many students in Evanston value the job fair because of the opportunities, but since many students rely on jobs as an additional income for their family, they theoretically should be given enough pay to provide these necessities. The job fair is there to support these students but that is not always the reality. Among other solutions, the City of Evanston can be more aware of these issues and provide the same pay for all workers in the future.