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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Minimum Wage Hike Means a Raise for Student Workers

<ent workers will receive a state-mandated raise in 2016, thanks to a new $9.50 minimum wage, approved by the Minnesota Senate last month.

Although it is only slightly higher than the $9.28 now paid for work-study, the new minimum wage will be tied to inflation, meaning it may continue to increase.

This is creating a puzzle for Carleton’s Budget Committee, which will soon begin drafting its budget for the 2016-2017 school year, according to Mike Kotchevar, assistant dean of financial aid.

The college now employs about 1,600 student workers–almost 80 percent of the student body–for at least one hour a week. To accommodate a higher minimum wage, the Budget Committee will have to choose between shrinking the number of student jobs and allocating more money for student wages.

“You’re looking at twenty-two cents,” said Kris Parker, assistant director of student financial services. “We’ll make it work.” Parker said she expected no changes in hours for students who work as part of their financial aid package.

Still, adding 22 cents is only the minimum requirement. For more than a decade, the college has made a point of exceeding the current $7.25 minimum wage by more than $2, according to Kotchevar. This, he said, is because student work is thought to be worth more than the minimum wage, and because off-campus jobs are limited. With a monopoly on student labor, he said, the college has a responsibility to pay students well.

It is yet unclear how student jobs will be affected by the new minimum. But non-student staff–including office workers, deans, and custodians–already make significantly more than $9.50, and will be unaffected by the new minimum, according to Kerstin Cardenas, director of human resources. Bon Appetit employees will be similarly unaffected, Director of Operations Eric Rasmussen said. 

But for Jim Blaha, Director of the Community Action Center of Northfield, the new minimum wage is reason to celebrate. His organization provides food, shelter and other resources to 1,053 low-income people in Northfield, whose average hourly wage is about $8.50. “Some may have their hours reduced, some may be bumped, but overall I think most people we serve will benefit,” he said. With more money, his clients will buy more groceries and gas from Northfield businesses, he said, boosting the local economy.

Because of the economic downturn, more people in Northfield are finding themselves stuck in bottom tier jobs, Blaha said. He said clients now need services for longer periods. Typically, about two-thirds of his clients still need assistance after a year. But recently, that amount has risen to about three-quarters.

Poverty in Northfield isn’t only the result of a low minimum wage. Blaha said many Northfield residents don’t have the means to get a job in the first place. That’s because most jobs are far away, so workers have to own cars. For people with children, childcare is also a prerequisite to finding a job.

“Will [the new minimum wage] make a difference? I think it will,” Blaha said. “Will it solve the problem? Probably not.”

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