Hullabaloo investigates how on-campus $15 minimum wage would affect student workers

Amanda Verdi, Associate News Editor

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Raising the minimum wage has been a hot topic throughout the country this year. President Barack Obama called on Congress to raise the national minimum wage to $10.10 per hour in his State Of The Union Address. States and cities around the country have raised their minimum wages in response to increasing public debate.

Seattle City Council passed legislation in May 2014 to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour over a period of seven years, by the end of which will make it the highest minimum wage in the nation.

Some Tulane student workers, like Elsa Weltzien, would like to see Tulane follow suit. Weltzein works a minimum wage job as a Lavin-Bernick Center desk attendant in addition to an off-campus job. She said it is tough to get by on the current minimum wage. 

“Minimum wage is hard to live on even as a college student,” Weltzien said. “It’s definitely tougher if you are relying on minimum wage to raise a family. Even as a college student, though, I pay for everything myself.”

The state of Louisiana is one of five states that currently does not have a set minimum wage. Wages on Tulane’s campus comply with the federal minimum wage as established by the Fair Labor Standards Act, currently set at $7.25 per hour, and several bills to raise the state minimum wage were rejected by the Louisiana State Legislature in the spring. 

Increasing the minimum wage may be more problematic than students realize. 

Toni Weiss, senior professor of practice of economics at Tulane, said that raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour could cause problems for students.

“That’s going to be a huge adjustment for people, and I think that would create issues with student employment on campus because people’s budgets are pretty frozen,” Weiss said. “They don’t have that kind of money.”

The Howard-Tilton Memorial Library employs a large number of student workers throughout its various departments. Lance Query, dean of libraries and academic information resources, said that the library would potentially have to make cuts to student employment if the university did not raise the library’s budget in response to a federal minimum wage mandate.

“I think we would probably have fewer jobs and more students competing for them,” Query said. “If you happen to be fortunate enough to get the job, you’re happy, but there’d be fewer people having jobs.”

Miriam Espinosa, director of library administrative services and budget, said that the number of student jobs would decrease following a large minimum wage increase.  

“Only the departments that critically needed those students would hire them,” Espinosa said.

Other consequences of a mandated increase of minimum wage may include a rise in tuition or budget cuts in other areas of the university, as well as complications to the federal work-study program. A majority of library employees, 69 percent, are currently employed through the work-study program.

“I would find it difficult to believe that Congress could agree on a meaningful adjustment in the federal budget in the department of education to support work study,” Query said.

Weiss applied the economic principle of elasticity to the discussion of minimum wage. The more radical the change in minimum wage, the greater the impact on the community economy will be.

“If you ever have such a drastic increase in price of anything, people are going to be far more responsive than to smaller changes,” Weiss said.

Query said he agreed. 

“The devil’s in the details. If it’s $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour, we could probably handle that. $7.25 per hour to $15 per hour, I’d be concerned about that,” Query said.

Weiss said a raise in minimum wage is feasible in the future.

“We need in our system a minimum wage that responds to changes in inflation so that we don’t have to go through this [debate] all the time,” Weiss said. “If minimum wage was adjusted with the cost of living adjustments, then that would take care of a lot of these problems.”