Economy and Employment

Iowa sees an increase in work permits for 14- and 15-year-olds

Hiring young

Nate Sternat, 14, a courtesy clerk, talks with a fellow employee and a customer in the checkout line at the Hy-Vee on Oakland Road in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, July 21, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Nate Sternat, 14, a courtesy clerk, talks with a fellow employee and a customer in the checkout line at the Hy-Vee on Oakland Road in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, July 21, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Unlike some teenagers, 14-year-old Nate Sternat is not spending his entire summer developing his skill on video games.

Instead, the incoming freshman at John F. Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids spends some of his afternoons bagging groceries and returning shopping carts as a courtesy clerk at the Hy-Vee grocery store on Oakland Road NE.

“My mom wanted me to do something over the summer, so I’m not sitting down in my basement all summer just playing games,” Sternat said, wearing an ironed white button-up shirt and stripped tie. “She wanted me to be outside and doing work for people.”

As with other 14- and 15-year-old workers in the state, Sternat’s movements on the job are well regulated. At Hy-Vee, he works no more than four hours a day and is limited to bagging groceries, returning shopping carts and sweeping floors.

Despite the regulations companies must abide by, Iowa has seen an increase in the past few years in the number of work permits issued for 14- and 15-year-old workers, with some companies using younger workers to cover specific shifts on a part-time basis.

There has been a 42 percent increase in the number of work permits issued through the state during the second quarters of 2011 with that same three-month period in 2015, according the Iowa Division of Labor. That time is especially significant as that’s when most people apply for jobs.

Karen Pfab, executive officer in the Wage and Child Labor program in the Iowa Division of Labor, said the second quarter — April, May and June — is the busiest time for work permits as that’s when 14- and 15-year-olds are accepting jobs for the summer time. Pfab said employers are responsible for turning in work permits for the teenagers they hire.

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Overall, there has been a 25 percent increase in the annual number of work permits issued with the state from 2011 to 2014 — from 4,172 permits to 5,562, according to the division.

David Swenson, an associate scientist in the Department of Economics at Iowa State University, said that as the economy improved from the 2008 recession, adult workers have moved out of low-paying jobs to other positions that generally offer them better hours, better pay and perhaps the opportunity to not work multiple part-time jobs.

As the lower-level jobs are freed up, Swenson said companies can have a hard time finding workers to fill those positions and may be looking toward younger workers to fill the need. He said the increase in the number of work permits also could be attributed to a small increase in the 14- and 15-year-old population in the state.

Swenson said that age group can be motivated to work by the opportunity to earn discretionary income.

He said families with lower disposable income might be “putting more pressure on the kids to work,” and “to buy the things they want.”

Sternat is saving money for an upcoming trip to the Wisconsin Dells and has plans to purchase a golf cart in the future. Sternat said he also anticipates using his earnings on movie dates and rounds of golf.

“Your friends are sitting at home with like $5 in their pocket while you got, like, $200 — it’s pretty good,” Sternat said.

Sternat said he is considering picking up another part-time job in the future.

Swenson said there might be some 14 and 15 year olds saving their money for the future, but overall it’s unlikely they have a long-term financial goals with their wages.

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In March, Hy-Vee began hiring 14- and 15-year-olds after existing employees began to ask about job opportunities for their children and relatives, said Sheila Laing, executive vice president of human resources and chief customer officer.

As of July 2015, West Des Moines-based Hy-Vee has hired about 350 employees between the ages of 14 and 15 in its stores, which are located across eight Midwestern states.

Under the old hiring policy, Hy-Vee Store Director Dave Blum said the company was turning away good talent.

“We were basically sending them either to one of our biggest competitors in the grocery industry or we were sending them to one of the restaurants,” Blum said, who operates the Oakland Road Hy-Vee in Cedar Rapids.

“It’s not like Hy-Vee to leave good people on the table,” Blum said, adding people were asking on weekly basis if Hy-Vee hires younger workers before the company lowered the hiring age in March.

While it might not have been the original intent behind hiring younger workers, Blum said employing 14- and 15-year-olds has allowed for much more flexibility with scheduling on weekends during the school year.

“It was huge, it helped us a lot,” he said.

And Hy-Vee is not alone.

Two Cedar Rapids Burger King restaurants also have hired 15-year-olds for part-time work to fill night and weekend shifts, said Travis Stovie, director of operations at Beaton Inc., which runs 19 Burger King restaurants.

Stovie said 15-year-olds often have flexible schedules and can provide good part-time help for restaurants with specific staffing needs.

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Due to state regulations, Stovie said 15-year-old workers largely are limited to being a cashier or working the pay window at the drive through.

Stovie said some restaurants have chosen not to hire 15 year olds due to state regulations that restrict them from working with fryers or cooking equipment.

“When we hire somebody we have the hope that they will be able to work in every single position we have,” Stovie said.

Although their work responsibilities are limited, hiring a 14 or 15-year-old worker is an investment in the company’s future, said Keely McDonald, human resource manager at the Oakland Road Hy-Vee.

Blum said it’s often easier to teach store values and the company culture to 14 and 15 year-old workers as for many of them Hy-Vee is their first job. To his surprise, he said the 14 and 15 year-old workers have been quick learners and are respectful of policies and procedures.

Not just that, but they also are some of the friendliest employees in the store, he added.

While there is a risk of employing a worker with so many restrictions, Blum plans to continue hiring them in the future and said having 14- and 15-year-old workers has been a big success.

“It is a risk, but I think with big risk you get great reward,” he said.

State regulations ban young workers from certain jobs

From how late they work to what they operate, 14- and 15-year-olds must follow a number of regulations when they enter the workplace.

Under state law, 14- and 15-year-olds cannot operate cooking equipment and are not permitted to work in construction, manufacturing or mining operations.

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This age group also is not permitted to work in walk-in freezers or coolers and cannot operate power-driven equipment, such as lawn mowers and weed eaters.

The state also regulates what times they can work.

From June 1 through Labor Day, they can be on the job from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and are allowed to work 40 hours a week for a maximum of 8 hours a day.

During the school year, 14- and 15-year-olds are allowed to work up to 28 hours a week but only four hours a day — outside of school hours — from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The age group also must abide by regulations set for workers under 18.

Workers under 18 are barred from driving motor vehicles on the job and cannot operate a power-driven hoisting apparatus, such as a pallet jack or a forklift. Under 18-year-old workers also are not allowed to clean, disassemble or operate power-driven meat slicers.

Workers under 18 cannot be involved in the operation of laundry, dyeing or dry cleaning machines. Employees under 18 also are prohibited from using power-driven woodworking machines, and cannot operate power-driven bakery machines.

Karen Pfab, executive officer in the Wage and Child Labor program in the Iowa Division of Labor, said employers assure they understand the regulations that apply to the age group when they fill out work permits for these younger employees.

Pfab said 14- and 15-year-olds can be allowed to operate a cash register, make deliveries by foot or bike and can do clerical work that includes the use of a printer or copier, among other jobs.

Companies that are found in violation of these regulations can face penalties from the state. Pfab said state penalties can range from $100 for first-time offenders and up to $10,000 for repeat offenders.

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