Practicalities of Minimum Wage

Somebody at work asked an important question about minimum wage. Here it is.

The minimum wage goes up to $15 per hour. This means the yearly salary of a minimum wage worker at our school is $31,200. Our office managers, all of whom have college degrees and pass the civil service exam, make $25,000 per year. Which will be significantly less than what an uneducated minimum wage worker at the same school makes.

Moreover, our professors – actual professors with PhDs – start with the salary of $42,000.

Given that we are a university, how can we convince our prospective students that college makes sense if we are paying our minimum-wage workers (98% of whom are our own students) a lot more money before they get a degree than we would pay them after they get a degree?

Yet another question is what vile evildoer comes up with all these idiotic innovations that make us pay bumbling 18-year-olds more money for updating their Instagram feed while “working” at the lab than people with Master’s degrees who make entire departments function? (Obviously nobody will pay this money to the 18-year-olds. They will be fired and the MA holders who get the same old $25,000 per year will mind the lab on top of their other duties. Thank you, Governor Rauner who saddled us with the preposterous minimum wage increase).

P.S. Anybody who mentions that the $25,000 workers and professors get benefits which compensate for lower pay will be banned from the blog immediately for not keeping track of how the same Mr Rauner who saddled us with the stupid minimum wage increase destroyed our benefits. It’s an extremely sore point with me and I can’t deal with any whataboutism on this subject. I literally flow off my handle and start spouting abuse when people mention benefits in the context of my job.

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27 thoughts on “Practicalities of Minimum Wage”

  1. But wouln’t everybody’s salaries be raised to at least minimal wage? I know this is not a solution to the problem of educated people being underpaid, but why would the salaries of those who currently get 25K stay the same?

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    1. Nope. Because a salary is not the same as an hourly wage. They don’t bear any relationship to each other. Because supposedly a salary gets you benefits and protections that wage labor doesn’t.

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  2. The minimum wage goes up to $15 per hour. This means the yearly salary of a minimum wage worker at our school is $31,200. Our office managers, all of whom have college degrees and pass the civil service exam, make $25,000 per year

    So which minimum wage workers at your school work 2,080 hours a year (40 hours a week*52 weeks a year) or work 2000 hours a year and get 10 days of paid vacation?

    How many hours per year do you your office managers work, on average?

    [I’m not commenting on professors because your job market is insane.]

    This is pretty emblematic of how going on “salary” isn’t always more financially beneficial to the worker. If the office managers are hourly, I’m pretty sure they’d get a bump in their hourly rate as well. There’s some uncertainty about manager pay levels and overtime right now.

    If your university uses government pay grades there’s simply no way someone with a master’s is in the same grade as someone with a high school diploma and little to no work experience. And in the private sector, they want to make sure the pay structure makes sense internally. That’s how you get receptionists making minimum wage ($8.41/hr in Fl) at one company even though the competitive market rate is higher ($12/hr at Target for a cashier, what is more “skilled?” ) because they don’t want to pay the receptionists the same hourly rate as the bottom tier of people they support ($9-10/hr). If the managers don’t get a pay raise as well, your organization is nuts.

    I wholeheartedly agree on the bogosity of using “benefits” like “health insurance” to artificially inflate people’s wages and this dumb game of acting like they pay you more than they do when you can’t even use/access their health insurance. I’m still mad about it years later and I wasn’t even pregnant at the time. So if you’re mad about it forever I can hardly blame you.

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    1. The funny thing is that our budget was not increased. It was decreased. So we have to pay these minimum wage workers almost twice as much from a smaller budget. Obviously, nobody is going to do it because it’s arithmetically impossible. They are all getting fired.

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  3. Almost everyone fighting for 15 is also fighting to increase exempt salary. Cailifornis minimum wage increase also increased exempt salary to 49k this year. This need not pit wage workers against low paid salary workers.

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  4. We’ve got this nutty situation too but keeping minimum wage down that far isn’t rational either. Our Wal*Mart is paying $11. Legal assistant job for bilingual B.A., with computer and writing and research skills and all of that, $11. The woman who painted a room in my house, also B.A., and my cleaner, B.A., charge $30. The wage labor I do in the summer pays me $25. The guys mixing and selling paint down at the paint store, $8 and what they do takes some skill. Then on Friday my students were describing the manual labor they do in summer, in commercial fishing and on oil rigs (this was in Spanish class so it was very good for vocabulary building and verb and adjective use, I will say) and BOY did I feel like a piker being tired from just grading papers and trying to work on my essay.

    At the university PhD level faculty start at $44K, staff with B.A. somewhere in $20s, janitors and some other manual workers are outsourced and make minimum wage without benefits, and grounds are kept by prisoners from parish prison, making 4 cents an hour last I heard, although I believe it may be 25 cents now. Administrators and certain star faculty make $125K and on up.

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  5. I’ll admit the situation at your school isn’t ideal, but in most places living on below $15 an hour isn’t practical. Or ever retiring, for that matter, even at that wage much less below. Even doing manual labor full-time (and more) such as cleaning into their 60s and 70s won’t work for many people as their bodies just break down.

    So even an imperfect $15 an hour minimum wage is better than nothing.

    Unfortunately for the last ~40 years, and particularly in the last 20, higher education has been strangled by the Republicans (also enabled by the Dems) and you are right in the middle of that effort.

    I support the $15 an hour minimum wage fully even recognizing that it will have insalubrious effects some of the time. The solution isn’t to force some people continue to live in poverty or near-poverty so that others don’t feel bad, but rather to attempt to raise everyone up. Yes, that is harder, but so is anything worth doing.

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    1. 96% of our entire departmental budget goes into salaries. Save for firing tenured professors, we have absolutely no way of raising these workers’ salaries. It’s just a fact. So the workers have to go.

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        1. I complained to the Dean about the office manager having to do the work of two people at two departments for the salary of $25,000. He said it was between getting another office manager or firing faculty. For example, me. And that was the end of that conversation.

          The English department is hiring people with PhDs in Spanish. The next step is obviously to shut down our whole department and let people in English teach Hispanic literature in translation. This is our situation right now. Making demands is not realistic.

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          1. I am talking about to the regents and the legislature. Don’t bother with the dean, except to get him on board with discussions with the general public on why state needs to reinvest. I am also not convinced that what he is telling you is exactly true, faculty salaries are from one budget and civil service employees another, and it’s some sleight of hand they may be using to say this is the department’s budget, but it’s not actually true. Don’t let him scare you, but also don’t think he’s the one to save you.

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            1. Yep. Right now they are hiring someone with a PhD from UVA, the Department of Spanish. A Latin Americanist.

              Our English department feels a profound dislike for foreign languages. Call me paranoid, but I see this as an attempt to squeeze us out. They already don’t allow us to teach anything in translation or on the indigenous civilizations. And now they are trying to hire an actual LatAm literature person.

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              1. How do they get the authority to tell you what to do, is my first question and whether their hire has the requisite 18 graduate hours in English (for accreditation, you know) is my second.

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              2. This is a great question about the requisite hours. We did wonder how this person is qualified to teach English composition, for instance. She’s a native English speaker but that doesn’t qualify you to teach at the college level.

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  6. Different states should (and do) have different minimum wages depending on the local cost of living. Arizona’s just went up to $11.

    $15 is too high for a national minimum wage in many locations, and some jobs simply aren’t worth that much for 60 minutes’ work. It’s not the government’s job to make sure that everybody earns a “living wage.”

    BTW, the federal minimum wage is still only $7.25, and hasn’t been raised in ten years!

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  7. NJ just passed the $15 minimum wage. Costco already pays that rate to its workers here.

    Why $15? OK, at 40 hours per week, that’s $31,200 per year. The US poverty level for a family of three is $25,980. Poverty level is subsistence, not allowing for education expenses or savings for retirement, or for that matter, much else. The $15 figure is designed to get large employers (e.g., Walmart) to stop relying on Medicaid to feed their employees — basically using the state to subsidize business labor costs.

    You have a state university, and the wages there are low. However, as my mother has found, a major offset is that your pension is guaranteed by the state constitution, and it’s substantial. Not that your salaries shouldn’t be higher; they should go up.

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  8. Most kids do not understand business or the ramifications of artificially raising labor rates. As one who grew up like most others, I had no concept of economy. I had no understanding how money was created. There never were any discussions on the subject, and even as a young adult, I found the concept difficult. But I tried, and I’ve explained this to young people. First, a man or woman wants to start a business. They have an idea with a plan, perhaps some start up capital (money). However, they need a loan, perhaps a million dollars. After all, they need a building, supplies, permits, insurance, products, and labor to train, along with many other things they’ll discover as they proceed. When the company makes good money, enough to pay back the loan plus interest, that extra money represents created money. Now, if the price of labor artificially rises, the company will have to either increase efficiency, reduce staff, or raise the prices of products. Notice those great “back to school” product Walmart used to sell very low are no longer sold at those prices? It’s economics 1A, one of the first things to learn. And if parents encourage their children to start small businesses (i.e. lemonade stands, lawn mowing, garage sales with things they buy, etc.), but also to pay for the costs of running those businesses (i.e. they have to buy the lemonade, the cookie dough, the oil and gas for the mower plus anything that breaks…), then they’ll have a better understanding of our economy. Want to hire a friend? Then that comes out of your profits. No, mommy won’t pay for the products or the friend, but she will provide lunch. Hmmm….

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  9. I wonder how many opportunities in this world are ended because of minimum wage? How many jobs lost? If I like a field, but am not experienced, but I’m willing to work for little or nothing, work my pants off to learn, how many of those opportunities are lost to me?

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      1. I see them from time to time. No, we don’t see this value system around as much anymore. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist inside of us: the potential. It’s a matter of someone: anyone, leading by example. People have a tendency to appreciate ingenuity and determination, but we also have the tendency to make excuses if we’re not willing to venture outside our comfort zones. The question for some people is whether they want to stay in their comfort zones.

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