Opinion | It’s time for The University of Alabama to raise its minimum wage

Carson Lott, Contributing Columnist

Typically, with a change in inflation comes a change in wages, or a government-administered price floor on the amount a business pays its workers. In the United States, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour has remained the same since 2009, despite inflationary increases over the last 12 years. 

In 2009, prices fell after the Great Recession of 2008 by nearly 2%. Now, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the consumer price index, a tool for measuring inflation, increased 0.9 percent in October 2021 due to supply chain disruptions related to the pandemic and the accruing trade war between the United States and China. Since November 2020, the CPI has risen nearly 6.2% before seasonal adjustment. 

If the minimum wage were accurately adjusted for inflation and increases in worker productivity since 1968, it would be nearly $24 an hour, as stated by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. 

However, most Americans (62%) are in support of a more modest increase, to $15 an hour, according to an April poll by the Pew Research Center

Despite widespread support, a wage increase of this degree doesn’t look possible anytime soon, at least coming from Washington, D.C. The last time a bill was introduced to raise the minimum wage — President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill —  was in March. Despite Congress’ being mostly controlled by the Democratic Party and the party’s adoption of a $15-an-hour minimum wage in its platform in 2016, it was voted down 58-42 in the Senate. 

Though Congress is at a standstill, The University of Alabama shouldn’t wait any longer. It’s time for the University to follow in the footsteps of universities nationwide and implement higher wages for all campus workers, including students. 

An increase in wages eliminates nearly all of the insecurities surrounding life for college students: tuition, rent, food, gas and more. As these prices increase, wages should too. If wages cannot cover these necessary expenses, what is the point of having a job? 

“Many students get jobs to just have extra money, but also to pay for their education or any other college expenses they have,” said junior Alexis Castellar, a nursing major. “I personally got a job so I can help pay for my college expenses, but it’s quite hard when you’re only making $9.75 an hour. Not only this, but classes interfere with my work, and I can only work certain days and times. I’m not the only student that has that problem.”

The University is the flagship of the state. It’s the largest employer in the county, and it holds an imperative responsibility to protect the socioeconomic well-being of its employees, students and the greater Tuscaloosa community. The University must set an example for the community, state and nation, upholding the standard of excellence it prides itself on. 

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator, the living wage for a single adult with no children in Tuscaloosa County is $14.55 an hour

Amy Glasmeier, professor of economic geography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writes that “the living wage is the minimum income standard that, if met, draws a very fine line between the financial independence of the working poor and the need to seek out public assistance or suffer consistent and severe housing and food insecurity. In light of this fact, the living wage is perhaps better defined as a minimum subsistence wage for persons living in the United States.”

Not only should wages increase for full-time employees, but also for student workers. Student workers are crucial to running this University successfully, and it’s time for wages to reflect their value. 

Assuming that a student worker earns $7.25 an hour and works 20 hours a week (the maximum for part-time, on-campus jobs),  they would earn approximately $630 a month.

As of 2020, the average rent in Tuscaloosa for a one-bedroom apartment is $737/month. With the rise in student population, luxury condominiums and the gentrification of affordable neighborhoods, it is a challenge for working-class and independent students to find adequate, updated, sustainable and safe housing that is near campus. 

Many students play a dangerous game of balancing their school work, their social lives and their finances. This juggling act places mental and physical strain on students, limiting their ability to dedicate themselves completely to their studies.

College students don’t have to be broke. The notion that the college experience includes collecting spare change just to buy food with empty nutrition, like ramen noodles, and having to live with multiple people just to afford shelter must be rejected. 

Increasing the minimum wage would also be an investment in the University, argued Maggie Palmer, a senior studying public relations. She said that “a higher wage would mean more financial stability and the ability to save for my future,” which would allow her to donate to her alma mater.

Championing diversity, equity and inclusion must go beyond the pamphlets that boast a progressive campus. It also includes immediate action in all aspects of our society and economy. It calls the University to uplift and support its students and employees. The University is more than capable of doing just that.

Several other colleges and universities in Alabama, like Auburn and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, have raised the minimum wage for full-time regular-status employees, starting in January 2022. These changes, although a step in the right direction, do not encompass student workers. By raising the minimum wage for all workers, the University could be a pioneer in our state and region and lead by example, possibly inspiring other colleges and universities, and potentially the state of Alabama, to do the same. 

The University wouldn’t be alone in taking this action but would join the ranks of schools like Johns Hopkins University, Clarke University, the University of Rochester and many more in supporting the fight for fair pay. 

There are misconceptions and misinformation about what a wage increase would mean for the University and the local economy. 

Myth: Raising the minimum wage kills jobs.

Fact: In industries, cities and states that have raised minimum wages, there has been no discernible effect on employment. This includes higher-impact industries, like food service and retail. 

Myth: The economy will suffer from increased wages; businesses will lose money.

Fact: Studies show that only a $2.25 increase in wages would lead to increased earnings of workers by an estimate of $40 billion. This increase would significantly increase GDP, as it will circle back into the economy and decrease unemployment.

Myth: Raising wages is a Democratic agenda. 

Fact: While higher wage policy is a part of the Democratic Party platform, traditionally Republican states like Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and West Virginia have increased their minimum wage since 2014. Federally, Republican presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush signed legislation increasing the minimum wage.

Myth: There will be no incentive for “unskilled” laborers to find better jobs.

Fact: Higher wages equate to more money being spent in the economy, which can lead to a cycle of greater demand for goods and services, job growth, and increased productivity for all sectors. Additionally, having access to higher wages opens up the opportunity to explore different career paths and higher education. 

Not only will a higher minimum wage make the lives of student workers and employees at the University so much easier, but it also has the potential to lift thousands of Alabamians out of poverty, boost the economy and increase overall productivity. 

It will allow students to focus on their studies and their social lives. It will allow employees to properly feed their families and to house themselves. It will allow all workers to save for their future. It can, and will, change the lives of student workers and low-wage employees for the better. 

To The University of Alabama: What are you waiting for? Roll Tide and Raise the Wage.

This story was published in the Rumor Edition. View the complete issue here.

Questions? Email the Opinions desk at [email protected].