The Reagan administration this week will renew its push to lower the minimum wage by 25 percent for teen-agers seeking summer jobs, setting the stage for another sharp battle with organized labor and opponents in Congress.
President Reagan will highlight the proposal in his budget message and in the State of the Union address that follows, according to Labor Department officials. They are organizing a lobbying effort for the measure, to be introduced in Congress as early as this week.
The department is attempting to garner Democratic sponsors as well as the expected GOP sponsors.
"We are optimistic that this year we have the momentum to pass this," said Bruce Navarro, the Labor Department's acting chief of legislative affairs, who is part of a departmental team that has lobbied Congress, mayors, civil rights and youth groups, and trade associations.
The administration, citing a 42.1 percent unemployment rate among black teen-agers, argues that a lower wage would induce businesses to create as many as 400,000 jobs, an estimate opponents dispute.
The 1985 youth employment opportunity wage act would reduce the minimum wage from $3.35 to $2.50 an hour between May 1 and Sept. 30 for workers between the ages of 16 and 19. The "subminimum" wage would apply for a three-year test period through 1987.
Critics charge that the lower wage would cause employers to fire or avoid employing higher-paid adults, that the lower wage tends to depress adult wages, and that it is unfair to pay lower wages to younger workers for the same work adults do.
"We remain dead-set against it. It is a foolish and counterproductive idea, and there is no evidence a subminimum wage would create jobs," AFL-CIO spokesman Murray Seeger said.
The measure includes penalties of up to $10,000 fines and six months in prison for employers who fire workers to hire others at the subminimum level.
Reagan last week reiterated his view that the effect of minimum wage laws has been to "price out of the job market the young people without job training who are out there looking for the first job."
"It's better to have a job at $2.50 an hour than no job at $3.35," said Chris Quarles, the Labor Department's special assistant on the issue. "We are talking about a bipartisan effort to address a tragic problem . . . . If you don't get to the unemployed teen-ager, he rapidly becomes the unemployable adult."
Critics have labeled the bill the "hamburger amendment" because they say it will reduce labor costs for fast-food chains with no real job growth, but supporters predict it will induce businesses to hire help for temporary tasks and special projects they otherwise would not have undertaken at higher cost.
The 400,000-job creation estimate is based on economic data showing that previous increases in the minimum wage have caused job losses, so that a reduction should create a correspondingly large increase, Everson Hull, the Labor Department's chief economist, said.
"If cutting wages produces jobs, then the Depression should have been the greatest job-creator in history," Seeger of the AFL-CIO said. "But people found depressed wages just perpetuates depression . . . . You are just setting up a situation where a brother or sister will get hired in preference to their older brother or sister, or even their mother or father."