Wages to change

How will a recently passed minimum wage hike impact student workers?

Kelly Holm, Senior Reporter

On Nov. 14, the St. Paul City Council voted to increase the minimum wage from $9.65 to $15 per hour, to be phased in gradually over a period of several years. The resolution was signed into law the same day by Mayor Melvin Carter. Long before any vote was taken, such legislation was expected to come about due to the progressive tilt of the Council, comprised entirely of Democrats, and Carter’s longtime support of a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

In September, the Star Tribune published an article, “St. Paul private colleges fret over $15 minimum wage for work-study students” by Emma Nelson, which explored possibilities as to how the then-theoretical increase could affect student workers at St. Paul’s five private colleges, including Hamline. In the article, Nelson referenced a report from the nonpartisan Citizens League suggesting that, among other things, a hike could cost each institution over $2 million per year and could lead to decreased demand for student workers or increased tuition. More information can be found on pages 28-29 of this report, which is linked to on the Citizens League website.

Although major employers of student workers at Hamline such as Public Safety, Dining Services and the theatre department all declined to remark on how the wage increase could impact them, student workers themselves were willing to comment.

“[A minimum wage increase] would be a good thing. It would allow me to have access to being able to pay Hamline back faster,” senior Noel Solomon, who works in Dining Services, said. “I don’t get enough in loans to cover all the expenses of all of my bills, so I owe usually about 900 [dollars] per semester out of pocket that comes from work study.”

Sophomore Vanessa Bell-Myers, who works for the theatre department in the Prop Shop, also shared positive sentiments about the increase.

“It is a good thing for student workers, especially in the theatre department right now, because we are low on people and we don’t have a lot of work time in the winter,” Bell-Myers said. “It would be helpful especially for people who only work at the theatre.”

Despite enthusiasm for more money in their pockets, it is possible that future Hamline student workers in a post-wage increase world might not have more take-home pay than Bell-Myers and Solomon do now, even though their hourly pay would be higher, as work hours could be cut. Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator Patti Klein elaborated.

“Work-study, working on campus, isn’t based on what the minimum wage is, it’s based on [an allotted] sum of money,” Klein said. “The impact probably will be that students will work fewer hours to make the same amount of money within their federal or within their Hamline work-study allotments… If you have a 2000 dollar work-study award, and right now it takes 10 hours a week to be able to make that amount, as the wage goes up, you’d be making fewer hours to make that same amount… I don’t see fewer jobs, and I don’t see fewer students getting jobs, I see students having to work fewer hours to make what their federal and Hamline financial aid are.”

As for the question of how additional shifts would be filled in this scenario if student hours were cut, Klein said the university would have to figure that out.

“We’ve got through other increases, whether they be imposed by the school or whether it be the minimum wage itself,” Klein said.

Klein also stated that she did not believe that increased minimum wage and increased tuition were correlated, a view also expressed by Vice President of Finance and Administration Margaret Tungseth.

“This would not be a tuition-driven decision,” Tungseth said. “The hope would be that the federal student worker amount that we get would also increase to help offset the cost of this… The first impact isn’t until 2020, so we’ve got some time to be able to plan for it.”

Tuition increases for the forthcoming academic year, if there are any, are currently in the process of being decided by the Board of Trustees. This year brought a 2.75 percent hike from the tuition prices for 2017-18.

There is also the question of what will happen to the wages of students who are paid per piece or via stipend rather than at an hourly rate. Junior Skyler Kane is the coordinator for Hamline’s chapter of media outlet Her Campus, where writers earn $10 per article.

Paying writers is actually a very new thing for Her Campus, just this year, and we haven’t gotten any complaints,” Kane said. “Our articles… are usually a very low time commitment. I bust out most of mine in 10 [minutes].”

Her Campus Hamline’s Event Coordinator and Marketing Director, junior Ryan Saufferer, said he takes much longer to complete his articles, which would complicate the introduction of an hourly rate for student media outlets.

“Ten dollars an article right now is well below minimum wage, as for me it takes more than one hour to write an article,” Saufferer said. “[Her Campus will] probably end up paying writers more, ‘cause as the minimum wage increases, Hamline’s going to have to raise tuition. As Hamline raises tuition, some of that money will… filter and trickle down to all of the orgs, too.”

Senior Kenzie Opse, a New Student Mentor (NSM), said she does not mind that she receives a stipend rather than an hourly wage in the shadow of the increase.

“Compared to other college campuses in the area, people in a similar role don’t actually get a stipend at all, it’s just volunteer experience, so I’m decently happy with what I get here,” Opse said.

The increase’s impact will first be felt at Hamline on Jul. 1, 2020, when hourly rates will go up to $11.50, rising annually until 2024, when the target of $15 per hour will be reached. This schedule is designated for businesses that employ more than 100 but fewer than 10,000 workers. For more information on how schedules differ for businesses of varying size, one can consult stpaul.gov.