How Legal Is The Amount You’re Getting Paid?

Let’s start at the beginning to make sure we all know the key terms. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that employers classify jobs as either ‘exempt’ or ‘nonexempt’. Nonexempt employees are covered by FLSA rules and regulations, and exempt employees are not.

What is an exempt employee?

Exempt positions are excluded from minimum wage, overtime regulations. Employers must pay a salary (fixes consistent number) rather than an hourly wage for a position for it to be exempt.

Every state his different overtime exempt qualifications, where a Youth Pastor will not qualify for overtime compensation because they are paid a certain amount. This status is called ‘Exempt Status’. Federally, an exempt employee must make no less than $455 per week, or $23,660. This is the minimum for all 50 states in the union, but many states have chosen to raise that bar as of 2018. You owe it to yourself to learn what you are entitled to because of the state you live in. And if you’re in California, the bar is quite high.

There are exactly 100 Youth Pastors in California that indicated they are full-time exempt employees who are paid on a 40 hour (plus) work schedule according to the 2018 Youth Pastor Compensation Survey.  During the time the survey was conducted, the state minimum wage was $10.50 for organizations of 25 employees or less, and $11 for organizations of more than 25 employees. In 2019 those numbers are now $11 and $12, respectively.  For our purposes, we’ll assume the lower $10.50 number in creating the threshold for overtime exemption. According to CA Labor Code 515, a salaried employee in California who is exempt from earning overtime must earn double minimum wage over a 40 hour work week.  For 2018, the formula to calculate the salary exempt minimum in California is ($10.50 x 2 x 40 hrs x 52 weeks) = $43,680.  This, to me represents the minimum salary for a Youth Pastor who is full-time and not paid overtime. If your church has more than 25 employees, counting all preschool employees, janitorial staff, interns, etc, that number rises to $45,760 due to the $11 minimum wage for organizations of more than 25.

According to our data, of the 100 California Youth Pastors who said they are considered exempt from overtime pay and are expected to work 40+ hours, nineteen (19!) individuals reported a salary number less than $43,680.  While its a reasonable claim to say this is a small sample size, this represents about 1 in 5 Youth Pastors in California report having earned an unlawful wage in 2018. 7 out of 19 (37%) of these employees are minorities, compared to an overall 20% being minorities among these 100.  There is no apparent denominational bias or church size bias. In fact seven of these nineteen come from churches of at least 750 people. Their youth group sizes vary as well, from small to large without rhyme or reason. It’s pretty difficult to detect a “why” these people are being paid an illegal wage; and yet here we are.

1 in 5 Youth Pastors in California report having earned an unlawful wage in 2018

60% of these 100 are getting a housing allowance. 40% are renters (plus a small handful who get church-assisted housing), leaving about 55% of CA full-time Youth Pastors who own a home.  Only 8 out 80 married CA YP’s have no side hustle and a spouse who does not work; meaning their church salary is their household’s only source of income. Four of those eight single-income YP’s work at churches of more than 5,000 people, and all of them are at congregations of at least 400 with a budget of at least 500k.

One final note.  When you remove illegally paid YP’s from California’s salary average for FT YP’s, it goes all the way up to $61,139 with a $55,000 median income.  The top 25 compensated YP’s in California all have at least a college degree. Perhaps California is entering a climate where there is no room for an entry level YP to find work, as churches will begin to balk at paying $50k+ for a Youth Pastor with no experience or no completed education.

My own opinion (and warning to my fellow CA YP’s) is that we’re heading towards a time in California where many YP’s are going to be moved to an hourly wage. Churches will do this so they aren’t required to pay the nearly $30/hour salary exempt minimum in 2021/2022, and instead will try and deal with managing hours for their staff. This is going to impact camps, mission trips, lock ins, and also the ability of Youth Pastors to do weekend activities with students because of the possibility of them working too may days in a row, etc, and thus qualifying for overtime compensation that churches will not want to pay. My advice is to pay attention to your church’s salary structure, and ask yourself (or your boss) how the church is prepared to deal with the escalating wage increases in our state.

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