Higher wages could help students

A wage that reflects the cost of living today would benefit struggling students.

Vince Bellino

Vince BellinoWhen Henry Ford more than doubled his workers’ hourly wage to $5 in 1914, it was a radical decision. Many thought that it would bankrupt him, but instead it laid the groundwork for a better company.

Ford realized his employees were working hard, but were leaving because they were not being fairly compensated. The solution was a higher wage. Because workers could afford to stay with Ford, they were able to become more skilled, instead of constantly being replaced by new workers after leaving due to low wages.

In turn, these higher wages also led those same workers to be among some of the first to own Ford cars.

Pennsylvania now stands at a similar point. Gov. Tom Wolf has stated his support for a $10.10 hourly minimum wage, the same pushed for by the Obama Administration.

An increase in the minimum wage would be beneficial to college students who need or choose to work to pay for part of their rent, loans or tuition.

It’s common knowledge – and often common complaint – that tuition is expensive, so it makes sense that students want to pay it off quickly. For many students, especially at Temple, rent is also something they must work to pay every month while in school.

According to the Bursar’s Office, an increase in the minimum wage would not raise the cost of tuition, a fear among those who do not support an increase.

The last time that Congress voted to raise the minimum wage was in 2007 — eight years ago. The average price of community college, the most affordable higher education available, has increased 44 percent since that raise.

With the prices of higher education increasing at a seemingly exponential rate, the only option left to allow students to avoid huge debts, and encourage more students to attend college, is to allow them to offset the cost somehow.

Emily Wilson, a freshman theater and film major, supports the increase because it would allow her to spend less time on work and more time on school while still saving money for next year’s rent and her current commuter expenses.

“I work six-hour shifts, so the increase would be like working nine hours instead of six,” Wilson said.

For Leah Murray, a freshman journalism major, a raised minimum wage would mean only having to work one job during the school year instead of two in order to still afford her expenses.

A study done by Citigroup and Seventeen Magazine found that four out of five college students work while in school, with an average of 19 hours per week – a large workload to add to that of being a full-time college student.

As a full-time student who will have to work next year to help pay for rent, I cannot understand how higher wages could be anything but beneficial. A higher minimum wage, for me, means that I would need fewer hours to pay for expenses, meaning that I can spend more time focusing on school.

If academics are supposed to be our number one priority, raising the minimum wage is the best decision.

The Citigroup/Seventeen Magazine study also found that despite the hours worked, only 18 percent are able to actually pay for school themselves while enrolled. The rest of the money must come from loans and other sources of aid.

An increase in the minimum wage would mean that, ideally, students working while enrolled for wages lower than the proposed $10.10 would be able to exit college closer to being debt free, and at worst, it would mean that they have fewer loans to pay off upon graduation. It’s a winning situation for students either way.

For both Murray and Wilson, as well as a large number of other working college students, this increase would have a direct effect because they work for significantly less than the proposed amount.

Clearly college students are willing to work, if four -fifths already do. It just makes sense to give that work a payout. If more degree holders are entering the workforce, everyone benefits.

Murray agrees that $10.10 is a reasonable minimum wage to implement, but she would not want to see it go any higher right now.

“I think it would be hard for small businesses to hire people if it was higher than that,” Murray said. “In San Francisco it’s $15, which is nice for workers of big corporations, but I think smaller businesses have a problem meeting that.”

Right now, we don’t need to worry about it being raised to anywhere past $10.10. We need to worry about giving people a wage that is sustainable instead of talking about the dangers of raising it almost $5 higher than the proposition. With Wolf’s proposal for Pennsylvania, the increase is not high enough to substantially deter businesses’ efforts to keep on workers – but it is enough to make a difference in the lives of those workers.

It is also important to acknowledge the difference in cost of living in major Pennsylvania cities such as Philadelphia versus its rural and suburban towns. To live in Philadelphia will cost anyone, student or not, significantly more than suburban areas.

If a higher wage will finally make it feasible for those in cities to live at a reasonable quality, then a higher wage is necessary.

We cannot look at the least expensive parts of a state and set our minimum to that standard. We must look to the highest costs to those working minimum wage jobs in order to set a reasonable minimum.

Wolf’s support of a $10.10 hourly minimum wage is the best thing that can happen to college students in Pennsylvania right now.

During a time when it is increasingly hard to pay for college tuition and the expenses that come with it, an increased minimum wage would serve to lighten the burden that many college students face, as well as open the door for those who may not have seen college as a viable option previously.

Vince Bellino can be reached at vince.bellino@temple.edu.

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