Wage increase could leave workers short on change, hours

Kyle Almond

For the first time in more than a decade the federal minimum wage has been raised, from $5.15 per hour to $5.85. This is the first in a series of three 70-cent raises, the second of which will occur next July, and the final one will take place a year after that.

Fifty-three percent of the 1.9 million Americans who earn minimum wage or less per hour are between the ages of 16 and 24, and 19.6 percent of all minimum wage workers have taken some college courses but have not graduated. This statistic includes college students who work part-time while attending class.

The raise will not immediately affect the 600 to 700 students currently employed by Washburn University, since in 2002 Washburn raised its base hourly wage to a full dollar above minimum wage. However, in July 2008 the federal minimum wage will rise to a full 40 cents above what Washburn currently pays student employees, and in 2009 the wage will shoot up to $7.25 per hour.

Allen Dickes, dean of enrollment management, says definitive proposal has not been drafted as to whether Washburn will raise its base pay rate each July to comply with the new minimum wage or encompass the future raises in one fell swoop, but added that a decision doesn’t have to be reached until next July at the latest. The bigger question is whether to limit the number of hours students can work, to limit the number of students the university hires or to adjust the budget to accommodate the 17.8 percent increase to the 2009 wage.

The general consensus is that the wage hike will not significantly lower the number of students interested in on-campus employment, since the benefits of working for the university outweigh the higher wages that are already being offered in Topeka. The wage hike, said Dickes, means that other places will start to catch up to what is already available.

“I think the change in minimum wage is due, and I think it’s time for a change in Washburn’s pay scale as well,” said Dickes.

Freshman Hayley Barnes, 18, of Oskaloosa, agrees. “I’ve been a victim of minimum wage, so I know how hard it must be to have to live off of it,” said Barnes.

Barnes doesn’t believe that job availability will change because of the hike, but she thinks prices will definitely rise, canceling any boost due to the raise. In the end, only time will tell if the minimum wage hikes will benefit Washburn students.