I have been in college for almost four years now, and I’m still two years away from graduating with a bachelor’s degree. How did that happen? Well the short answer is work. My first semester of college was a total failure. I didn’t know what I was getting in to. It didn’t help that my family’s house was being foreclosed on and my dad lost his job. I took extra hours at work to maintain my family’s basic needs, and because of this I failed every single class I was taking in the fall 2015 semester. I almost didn’t come back.
But I did. I quit my job as soon as I had the chance and managed to earn a 3.5 GPA for the spring semester. It wasn’t long before I was looking for a job again, though. I hated asking my father for money because he couldn’t really afford it. He was the only working member of my family, earning $10 per hour while trying to provide for a household of six. In fall 2016, I decided I needed to have my own source of income for car insurance and gas, but also, hopefully, for helping out my family.
In October 2016, I secured a minimum wage job in the food-service industry and I’ve been working there ever since. I only work part time now, so, I’m able to keep up with my classwork, but I’ve always been envious of students who are lucky enough to be happily unemployed. While my tuition is covered entirely by federal and state aid, there is much more to going to college than just the cost of tuition. Many students have to pay rent or a mortgage or provide themselves with necessary insurance coverage, food, gas, clothes, etcetera. Some classes also demand extra money for projects.
The students with higher GPAs are often the students who don’t have to work through college. But higher GPA’s are rewarded with more scholarship money! Most scholarships don’t look at what you’re doing outside of class. They don’t recognize that a student may be capable of much more in school if only they didn’t have to work to pay for their basic needs. Working college students often earn lower GPAs because they don’t have as much time to study.
This is one of the reasons I support the state’s minimum wage increase. While I admit, the raise should have been a bit lower, maybe $10 per hour instead of $11, I still voted for the act because I recognize that Arkansas has a poverty problem and I want to try to fix it. Some people say that minimum wage jobs require minimum effort, so why pay more for easy labor? Minimum wage is meant to provide individuals with the ability to meet their minimum needs. But at $8.50 per hour, it didn’t. A large percentage of the jobs available in Arkansas are in the food-service industry, and the number is continually growing.
Many people with college degrees can’t find work in professional fields in Arkansas, and they are often forced to settle for a food-service job. Should those people have to live on minimum wage?
Many states have depended on the federal minimum wage to guide corporations’ labor costs to keep pace with inflation, but the federal government has failed to do so. States are taking action to increase their own minimum wage requirements now because the federal government hasn’t mandated an increase in ten years. That’s ten years of inflation in the cost of living left unaddressed.
I do understand most companies will raise the cost of their goods to make up for the increase in labor costs. However, some expenses will remain the same due to contracts and legal agreements. Specifically, car and house payments that are already in place will not increase. Purchases from companies in other states or countries will not be affected. This will help many, many people working minimum wage jobs. Personally, I plan to take advantage of the increased minimum wage by lowering my hours to commit more time to school without losing money.
Finally, to those who insist the increase will do nothing, that it will be canceled out by increases in the cost of consumer goods, and that the act is hurting businesses, I say: How do you propose we fix Arkansas’ poverty problem? It’s not that I’m unwilling to hear alternative ideas, I simply haven’t heard anything else of practical value.