Civically Engaging with Alex Zank

This week: increasing the minimum wage is crucial for well-being of college students

Story by Alex Zank, OP/ED Editor

The first raise I received was in high school, when federal minimum wage was increased to $7.25 an hour. I was working at a fast food restaurant, in an industry at the center of the minimum wage political battle.

And I know I’m not the only UW-Eau Claire attendee who has worked or still works earning minimum wage. A Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis of wage data from 2012 stated that workers under the age of 25, while representing only one fifth of all hourly paid workers in the U.S., made up about half of those paid at federal minimum wage.

And I know a lot of college students find part-time employment in the service industry, which makes up the largest proportion of hourly paid workers, according to the same report.

This is why I decided to start with this topic: minimum wage is an issue that (quite obviously) directly involves the young, including us college students. And we’re definitely not making enough money to support ourselves. This is why we should have an active interest in seeing the minimum wage increase.

It’s a bit unorthodox to acknowledge an opponent’s views first but I will tell you upfront that, generally, people who argue against increasing the minimum wage are not doing it because they’re inherently evil. In fact, they have a strong argument.

Opponents can point to plenty of economic theory and research that suggests an increase in workers’ minimum wage leads to higher unemployment. The minimum wage puts what some call a “price floor” on firms’ ability to hire workers. If they have to pay too much in wages, then they will just resort to hiring less.

It’s important to point out that some economic studies suggest this isn’t always the case. But my response to critics of the minimum wage is a two-pronged one.

Firstly, minimum wage is just not enough for those living on it to support themselves or their dependents. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator — the living wage is what a person needs to make to meet normal standards of living — shows Eau Claire County’s living wage is $8.07 an hour for a single adult. Keep in mind this assumes the person works full time.

Eau Claire isn’t an expensive place to live. The living wage for Milwaukee County, for comparison, is $9.48 an hour. And for the Twin Cities area, the living wage is $9.69 per hour.

Secondly, those arguing against raising the minimum wage probably aren’t thinking about the benefits increasing peoples’ incomes can have on the economy.

The people making minimum wage are also consumers. If they don’t have enough money to live, how can they spend anything on goods other than the essentials? When you increase the income level of these wage earners, it would stimulate the economy with more consumer spending.

Now that the worst of the recession is behind us, corporations are bouncing back, making huge profits. At the same time, minimum wage isn’t even keeping up with inflation and people like us college students are barely getting by.

I think it’s time that our government acts and increases the federal minimum wage. Wouldn’t it be nice if we as students could earn enough to indulge on food other than Ramen noodles and bologna?