Local youth named finalist in national essay contest

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SANDPOINT — Minimum wage laws are meant to help workers by raising wages and preventing companies from exploiting employees. Do the laws succeed?

Raising the minimum wage and how it affects the economy was this year’s topic for the Stossel in the Classroom essay contest. For her argument that raising the minimum wage hurts employees, local home-school senior Charlotte “Charlie” LeBlanc was named among the top ten finalists across the nation.

“Last year, more than 2,200 people entered the contest, so I was skeptical about being recognized,” LeBlanc said in an email to the Daily Bee. “I am so honored that my essay was good enough to be one of the top ten essays written across the country. I am very grateful to everyone who helped edit my essay, and who listened to me the countless times I read it.”

SITC is sponsored by the nonprofit Center for Independent Thought and provides classroom teaching tools, such as free DVDs to teachers to help students think critically about economics and other important issues. The program also hosts annual essay and video contests, with prizes of up to $1,500 for first place. Finalists in the top 10 are awarded $200 each.

LeBlanc, who plans to attend the University of Dallas through the school’s Trustee’s Scholarship, said she thrives on pushing herself to do things no one expects.

In January, for example, she made a goal to run a half-marathon, recently accomplishing it on April 14.

“I ran 13.1 miles without stopping — surprising myself as I had never run more than ten miles,” LeBlanc said. “I enjoy an active lifestyle. I swim, hike, or run almost every day. I was on the SHS swim team and I qualified for state. I am a pianist and a singer. Last year, I organized a group of students to play bi-weekly at The Bridge Life Care Center. I look forward to playing piano there every other week.”

Her “true passion,” however, is reading and writing, she said. She enjoys books of every genre, style, and length. As an introvert, LeBlanc said writing is the easiest way for her to express opinions and feelings. As such, she plans to pursue a career in either journalism or criminal profiling.

When LeBlanc heard about the Stossel in the Classroom essay topic, she said she was “ecstatic.”

“I began working at a minimum-wage job, so I had experienced the topic,” she said. “I wrote my essay in January, and I must have edited it two dozen times. I read it for my friends, my parents — anyone who would listen. I submitted my essay in February, just a few days before the contest closed. I had no idea when the winner would be announced, so I checked the website almost every day.”

So one day last week, she wasn’t expecting to find any new information on the website — yet there it was. The 2019 winners list. She scrolled down, she said, reading the names of the finalists, and saw her name on the list.

“I was so excited,” LeBlanc said. “I ran into my sister’s room to tell her, even though it 6:45 a.m.”

In her essay, LeBlanc said she has lived in a number of states as a military child. Her teenage years, however, were mostly spent in Maryland and Idaho where there is a stark contrast in the minimum wage.

In Maryland, LeBlanc knew one 18-year-old who worked, while nearly all of her friends of age to work in Idaho have a job.

“This employment difference is not because my friends in Maryland are not as ambitious as my friends in Idaho, but simply because the Maryland minimum wage is $10.10 whereas the Idaho minimum wage is $7.25,” LeBlanc wrote. “At first this disparity may seem contradictory. One might think, ‘Why would so many more teenagers be employed in a state that pays less?’ The answer to this question is simple: raising the minimum wage hurts employees.”

Upon her conclusion, LeBlanc said she stands by her argument that raising the minimum wage hurts workers for two reasons: novices are not hired, and employee hours are reduced. This is an “important issue facing society, she wrote, adding that John Stossel said when the minimum wage is raised and people are unable to get jobs “… people stay unemployed, play video games, hang out on the street. They never learn to smile at a customer, get to work on time. They never learn the job skills that get to better jobs later.”

LeBlanc’s mother, Kirsten LeBlanc, said what she and her husband Marcel are “so excited” for their daughter in all she has accomplished. What the couple admires most about her, Kirsten LeBlanc said, is her “quiet determination.”

“She rarely draws attention to herself or her achievements,” Kirsten LeBlanc said in an email to the Daily Bee. “Her humility is genuine. Marcel and I want to shout out from the mountaintops, ‘That’s amazing. We’re so proud. You were one of ten finalists out of more than 2,000 students’ — Her response is to smile sheepishly and say she’s happy.”

“As a homeschool student, a straight-A transcript can be viewed with skepticism; but a 1410 SAT score and being a finalist in the Stossel in the Classroom essay contest can be viewed objectively. We admire Charlie’s diligence and determination.”

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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