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Professor Geraint Johnes

The minimum wage and young workers

Authors: Professor Geraint Johnes

19 November 2014

New data have been published today on the incidence of  low pay. The figures come from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings and refer to April of each year. Four distinct levels of the national minmum wage are relevant: apprentices in their first year and those aged 16-18 had a minimum wage of £2.68 per hour; for other workers aged 16-17 the minimum wage was £3.72; workers aged 18-20 had a minimum wage of £5.03; and for all other workers the minimum wage was £6.31.

The data show that the proportions of workers being paid less than the relevant minimum wage is markedly higher for young workers (aged 16-20) than is the case for those aged 21 or more. For the latter group, well under 1% are paid below the minimum, but for younger employees the proportion is between 2.5 and 3%. In total, some 236000 workers receive a wage below the minimum, of whom 40000 are aged between 16 and 20.

This is, in part at least, due to the incidence of part-time employment amongst young workers, many of whom are still in education. Part-time employees are much more likely than full-time workers to be paid low wages.

There is some regional variation in the incidence of very low pay - it is lowest in London, the South East and Scotland, and highest (by far) in Northern Ireland. For the most part employers show a good understanding of the requirements associated with minimum wage legislation. It may be that there is work still to be done in ensuring that they respond quickly enough to workers' changing minimum wage rates as the employees pass key birthdays or as they graduate from apprentice status. It may also be that there is work still to be done in communicating effectively to employers their responsibilities to younger workers.

More generally, there is a need for employers - and for society in general - to nurture younger workers, providing them with jobs that offer a genuine career path with the promise of development and progression. At The Work Foundation we have undertaken a considerable amount of research in this area, a useful summary of which appears here .