Is Minimum Wage the Standard in Higher Learning?
Josh Whitener Assistant News Editor
It was reported in 2013 that 40 million students have some form of student debt. Many of these students work minimum wage jobs to help pay their way through school, earning as little as $7.25 an hour in Virginia. With the proposed federal increase to minimum wage students may see a lift to the financial burden that has become a hallmark to the college experience.
Students at Old Dominion University are no less susceptible to student debt. Crystal Booker, a sophomore, knows first-hand the struggle of paying for college herself.
“Right now I’m trying to get [a job] in Norfolk … I have to be able to get a job to be able to make my monthly payments to go here which, with the loan that I get, are $800 a month,” Booker said.
Her previous job was over an hour away.
“I went to Gloucester every weekend and worked thirty hours a weekend. Seasonally, I work for Green Hand Farm Park in admissions. It’s September through November so I really try to work as much as I can with that because that’s one that I make $10.00 an hour with,” Booker said.
Booker’s job did not guarantee her thirty hours a week, however. “That’s me sticking my nose in saying ‘I need this and I want to be here,’” she said.
The previous year Booker worked for minimum wage which, according to her, only helped her pay for her books. According to her the difference between minimum wage versus $10.00 per hour was significant.
“To me it is because I can I pay for gas and still have some left over,” she said. “But if I didn’t pull thirty hours it wouldn’t matter.”
According to The Project on Student Debt the average amount of debt for graduating seniors in 2013 was $27,847 with 62% of graduates in debt. Total cost for attendance at ODU during 2012-2013 was $21,519. Booker has about $18,000 in loans currently with no current scholarships or federal grants.
Sierra Griffith, also a sophomore, works as a waitress at Olive Garden relying mostly on tips.
“I kind of lowered how much I was working because I couldn’t really handle more than about sixteen hours. I usually work weekends and I have a few days off of classes and they’re all kind of crammed into one day,” Griffith says.
Griffith is taking fifteen credit hours and is also on ODU’s women’s soccer team.
Dr. Juan Du, an assistant professor in the Department of Economics, provides insight as to why minimum wage earners struggle to make ends meet despite a growing economy.
“I think this year is better,” she said. “The unemployment rate right now is 5.6% which is a lot lower. However, what you need to notice is that the unemployment rate is the highest for teenagers, from those sixteen to twenty years old which means those jobs are the jobs that are let go during a recession.”
This can make it difficult for a student to retain a job during school that does not require a necessary skill set or degree. Du points out, however, that there is still a silver lining upon graduation even with seemingly insurmountable debt.
“If you graduate now while the economy is booming then there are a lot of jobs available. Then you have to think of the trade off more which is if you graduate today then you can get a good paying job,” Du says.
Although minimum wage earnings hardly seem to make a dent in the financial problems students face, the payoff can be achieved. With a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9.80 filtering through legislation, some students may also be able to gain breathing room knowing they’ll be able to afford basics like gas and food easier than they would at today’s set minimum wage of $7.25.
Sierra Griffith is hopeful about her return investment as a student. She believes the end will justify the means.
“I think it depends on the major you go into and if you go into something where you’re almost guaranteed a spot I think that’s what’s going to benefit you the most. In the outcome, if you look at it people make more money if they have gone to school. That’s what people are looking for when they’re hiring,” Griffith said.
Obama to Congress re: #minimumwage “If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, try it.”
— NPR Politics (@nprpolitics) January 21, 2015
— Suzanne Bell (@BellMarketing) December 3, 2014