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Student voices: mixed reactions to proposed min. wage hike

By Kathleen McWilliams
On March 25, 2014

The state Appropriations Committee approved a bill yesterday that would increase Connecticut's minimum wage from $8.70 to $10.10 by January 2017.
The bill goes to vote in the Senate on Wednesday and proposes that the current minimum wage of $8.70 go up to $9.00 on January 1, 2015 and then make steady yearly increases to $10.10 in 2017.
For UConn students, this increase is viewed as a necessary and progressive program, but others see it as a slippery slope.
Danielle Donnelly, an 8th-semester political science and English major, actively worked with Connecticut Citizen Action Group on the Fight for Fifteen campaign over the summer, an organization that rallied statewide support for a minimum wage increase. Donnelly sees this week's vote as a critical step for those who work 40 hours a week at $8.70 an hour.
"It's difficult to look at the economy and also our social programs now and not support raising the minimum wage," Donnelly said. "Millions of low-income workers depend on government programs like SNAP, Medicaid and other welfare programs in order to scrape by. That means that their paychecks don't even cover the cost of surviving. In order to alleviate the pressure these workers place on an already over-burdened system, a wage increase has to happen."
Similarly, Donnelly said that many workers who work for minimum wage are often not able to support themselves on one minimum wage job and that this should not be the reality for people living in one of the most prosperous parts of the world.
"An increase to $10.10 an hour or more would ensure that these people rise above the poverty line-currently somewhere close to $12,000/year for a family of two and be able to contribute more of their earnings to the economy rather than living paycheck to paycheck and merely subsisting," Donnelly said.
Drew Pett, a 4th-semester human rights, economics and math/statistics major, said he thinks the bill will pass tomorrow, but he's skeptical of its affect on student workers on campus.
"I definitely think the minimum wage increase will pass in CT and I don't think it will have a tremendous effect on student workers," Pett said. "More students may be motivated to find on-campus jobs, so job selectivity may increase but I don't believe there will be many effects outside of the wage increase for current student workers."
Pett said that while some people might think the issue is the salary that full time minimum wage workers receive annually, he believes that the issue is the lack of benefits that such workers receive.
"My impression is that the minimum wage isn't so much the issue with workers working minimum wage jobs for 40 hours a week. The issue is the lack of social benefits, job security, and potential for advancement. To me it seems these factors are what primarily keep individuals below the poverty line," Pett said.
Donnelly agreed and said that the increase, despite the lack of legislation for mandatory benefits for service workers, will allow individuals working 40 hours at minimum wage to live above the poverty line.
"$10.10 guarantees that workers now living in poverty will be above the poverty line, but that does not mean they are being paid for the services they render," Donnelly said.
Other students do not the see the minimum wage as a pressing issue. Bryan Gregor, an 8th-semester philosophy and economics major, said he finds that the push for a higher wage is the result of liberals' disillusionment with the capitalist system.
"I think present preoccupation with raising the minimum wage, not just in Connecticut, but in general is to do with disillusionment of the capitalist system. Connecticut is a blue state. And the concerns of liberals tend toward economic, social, and cultural rights," Gregor said.
As an economics major, Gregor is well versed in the phrase "there is no such things as a free lunch." The economics catchphrase aims to remind people that while a material or abstract item may appear free, there are always underlying costs. According to Gregor, raising the minimum wage might cause employers to hire fewer employees and let people go.
"It's often said that Connecticut is the state that has one of the highest, if not the highest, costs of living in the nation, " Gregor said. "Assuming this is true, raising the minimum wage will affect the well being of those working minimum wage. This seems self evident. But there is no free lunch. Trade offs are inevitable."
Gregor believes such trade offs could hurt Connecticut employees and UConn students in an already competitive job market.
"Raising the minimum wage may give firms an incentive to hire fewer employees, offer employees fewer hours and hire employees who are unnecessarily qualified for the job for which they are hired. This may give an incentive to offer less benefits or less raises," Gregor said.
Donnelly disagreed and said that students who work on campus to support themselves will see positive changes with the increase.
"Students who work to support themselves and pay for school will see a slight increase in their income. I know many students who do work hold these sort of low-wage or part-time positions, so, while it may not vastly impact how much money they make, they will see a difference in their paychecks," Donnelly said.
Gregor agreed that while most UConn students would think positively about the changes in the minimum wage, the potential effects of the increase could harm students in the long run.
If you asked the average UConn student if they think the minimum wage ought to be increased to $10.10, almost all of them would agree, " Gregor said. "But how likely is it after receiving a degree and $50,000-$100,000 in private student loans, the same UConn student who agreed to the increase in minimum wage will find themselves working at Citizens Bank, Best Buy, Staples or Enterprise branch next to a 21 year old without a degree, but an equal or higher income? Do you think that UConn student would be happy with the same or equal wage as someone without a college education?"

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