The idea of raising the minimum wage to $15 has been in the news lately; although this idea has been floating around for a couple of years, it’s currently getting a lot of attention. Naturally there are many voices in favor, with just as many chiming in on the why this is a bad idea. I am here to add myself to the second group.
Our oldest son recently graduated from Moorhead State with a psychology degree. This past fall he accepted a position in a job related to his field…which pays $15 an hour. So how do we attempt to explain to our son, who worked hard for four years of his life to earn a degree (which also includes a manageable amount of debt), that he may as well have just stayed at one of the entry-level service positions he worked while attending school? The answer: we won’t, because we don’t support this concept at all.
My husband and I were and are fortunate to be able to help our boys (our younger one is a junior at Mankato State) through school in a variety of ways: we stocked their dorms including furniture, they each have a vehicle, we paid their rent a number of times, bought their books, occasionally bought them food, clothes and household items, and paid a portion of their tuition. As we were doing this, we also repeatedly gave this message: We will help as much as possible, but won’t be your sole support, because in the real world you have to earn your own way. This is the same type of support and explanation that almost all our friends give to their kids attending college. However, I completely understand this is not everyone’s situation.
Arguments for raising the minimum wage state that it’s the only way to raise up those living in poverty. I counter this argument with a look at one of our boys’ friends. A smart, resourceful girl, she comes from a lower-class background, but is currently finishing her senior year at the U of M on an academic scholarship. Because she gets virtually no support from her family, she works two jobs while going to school full-time, to pay rent on a run-down apartment in Dinkytown so she can earn that degree. There are always ways to better onself, but they need to be worked for and earned.
But, advocates argue, what about those who face other, more difficult barriers to higher education? In Minnesota, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system offers a wealth of support and resources, including their flagship program “The Power of You”. First introduced in 2006, this program targets underrepresented students in Minneapolis and St. Paul. A closer look at MnSCU shows a wealth of similar programs for underrepresented students in our community colleges and universities, http://bit.ly/1wd98F3, as well as programs for veterans. These programs come with mentoring, guidance, and support, but the hard work and sacrifice still needs to be done by the student.
And of course sometimes college just isn’t in the cards at all, for a wide variety of reasons. When I worked at a White Castle in the early 80’s, I recall our regional manager proudly telling us how he started on the line and rose up through the ranks. Doing so entails working hard at your position, taking on new responsibilities to build your skill set, and becoming a valued employee who is looked at for promotional opportunities. This is still the case a couple of decades later, and a much more satisfactory way to raise yourself up and earn a paycheck that’s in line with your skills, instead of just being handed an artificially high wage.