Supporters for a $15 minimum wage in the U.S. are on the rise, and it has been a big issue debated between Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. She recently switched her stance on the issue, supporting the idea that a gradual national increase to a $12 minimum wage (similar to a proposed gradual increase to $15 an hour in New York City, and then for the rest of the state). While Clinton’s exact stance is unclear, Sanders has said from the get-go that he supports a $15 nationwide minimum wage. Political views aside, I don’t agree 100 percent with a $15 minimum wage, at least, not yet. Let me explain my thoughts on this issue.
First, a little bit on my current financial situation and my past (both of which heavily influence my stance on this issue). I graduated in 2014 from a private college in Staten Island, NY with a significant amount of student loan debt, including both my own loans and the ‘Parent PLUS’ loans of my parents. This equates to about $500 that I pay per month, combining the loan payments I pay to the government and to help my parents with the loans they took out to help me get a college education. I worked several part-time jobs in addition to both paid and unpaid internships throughout my four years in college to have enough extra money to live on in college. I am no stranger to working, and have worked at a part-time job since before even turning 16 (with a work permit, of course).
During the latter of my college education, the New York minimum wage was raised to $8 an hour. This was great for me, since I went to school and worked in New York, and it meant a little more money in my paychecks. At an internship right out of college, I was making $8 an hour, working 40 hours a week, doing the same job as everyone else at a small newspaper on Staten Island. Overtime definitely helped but I wonder if this job would have paid $7.25 if the minimum wage was not raised, or if the job simply did not raise their wage even with the increase.
So, where am I now, nearly two years after graduating with my expensive, private college Bachelor’s degree? I’m still working in the newspaper industry, one step above an intern, earning an entry-level salary. After crunching some numbers, I thought a lot about the minimum wage proposals and what it all means and how, if at all, it would affect me. Let me break it down for you. My salary, before taxes and benefits and all that jazz, equates to roughly $15 an hour. Yes, I’m serious, and this is with a slight raise from last year. Granted, I am expected to get another raise at the beginning of next year at my two-year mark with the company. But, right now, this college graduate, with a good job and significant college debt, is only making about $15 an hour, the same amount that many have proposed to raise the minimum wage to for….everyone! This includes fast food workers, workers with no college education, 16-year-olds scooping ice cream in the summer, high school students working at the mall…everyone would get $15 minimum. I am, by no means, saying that this is a bad thing, but as someone who makes $15 an hour with an expensive college degree, can you understand why I’m a little skeptical?
There are a lot of questions I have about how raising the minimum wage will play out. Will an entry-level salary like mine rise? Will companies be able to afford more workers? Will products and services become more expensive? I know, these wage increases are planned to happened gradually, and that there are a lot of people coming up with solutions to these questions and ensuring that there is an overall positive outcome of raising the minimum wage. In the long run, I think that a nationwide $15 minimum wage is great, and it would help a lot of people trying to make ends meet and providing for their families. But, there are other factors to consider. The minimum wage really should depend on where you live, at least to start off. Making $15 an hour in Pittsburgh, where I live, is definitely a livable salary if you are working around 40 hours a week. In a bigger, more expensive city like Los Angeles or New York City, I’m sure it’s still a far way off from making ends meet, but it’s still a lot better than the current $8 an hour wage.
To crunch some numbers again, if you take away the amount of money I pay in student loans, I’m really only making about $12 an hour. I share an apartment with my boyfriend, and we split just about everything including utilities and food. We don’t live a luxurious lifestyle, but we have enough money to go to dinner and to take a small trip here and there. He works as a food and beverage supervisor (after a recent promotion), and now makes roughly a very similar wage than I do. He also does not have any student loan debt, and does not have a college degree. He worked very hard to get to where he is, and I don’t think that his is any less important than mine is, or that he is any less intelligent or capable than I am.
I point these things out to show the realities of money, and how much money you really need to get by. Fast food workers in Pittsburgh and other inexpensive cities most definitely do not need $15 an hour to get by, but in a bigger, more expensive city, $15 an hour may not be nearly enough. I hope that topics like the amount of hours and benefits offered to employees are also discussed. $15 an hour is great for college interns (and it’s more than I was ever paid in college!) but I hope that does not push more companies to not pay their interns. There are many layers of the minimum wage debate than meets the eye and I truly hope that the presidential candidates and politicians address these concerns before finalizing a higher nationwide minimum wage. On a more positive note, I’m really glad to see more and more companies increase their own minimum wage for workers, with Wal-Mart and Target most recently.