Whitworth ought to raise student wages

by Jacob Schmidt

Before you make any assumptions about me, yes I did vote for Bernie Sanders, but this article is not about economics. Rather, I want to speak to the Christian imperative to do more than what is asked, to go the extra mile. I don’t want a living wage, I don’t want to bankrupt Whitworth, and I am not merely in this for myself. I simply wish for a symbolic gesture by which my school might honor its Christian identity. I think Whitworth should raise student wages.

For those who clamor for a hike in wages to that rhetorically powerful $15 per hour, I support your efforts, but do not wish to express them here. The source of the magic $15 number is the desire for working families to be able to earn a living wage. This is a noble goal, but not one which pertains so much to students directly, as few among us work full time or support a family – all praise and honor be unto those that do. In fact, there are government support services in place for students who work even 20 hours per week, so the question of a living wage is at least more complicated when it comes to student workers. For a more in depth look at the economic nuances of student wages, I would encourage readers to check out a recent article in Fortune magazine. While I believe that a $15 minimum wage ought to be considered for all, I will leave this debate to be settled in the political arena.

What I want from Whitworth need not be $15 per hour for my work as a tour guide, climbing wall attendant and shuttle driver. All I ask is to not be paid minimum wage. Were the minimum wage $11 or $12 or even $17 I would still be asking for this as a Christian gesture. It is at the very heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition that we are called to do more than what is asked of us by governing authorities. Take the practice of tithing for example, God calls upon His people to give, not of their left-overs, but of their first-fruits (Lev. 27:30, Prov. 3:9, Gen. 28:22). This practice encourages Christians to prioritize giving over all else, not to do only what is required of them. The notion of above-and-beyond giving is made even more clear in the New Testament as Jesus says that, “if anyone forces you to go with him one mile, go with him two miles” (Matt. 5:41 ESV). Many biblical historians  believe that this verse refers to a practice by which soldiers would have a civilian carry their bags for a mile. What we have in Jesus’ words is a direct commandment to do more than what the representatives of the government have insisted that you do. This message is reiterated by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7 ESV). It seems that paying your workers the minimum wage is a case of giving under compulsion.

These biblical examples make it clear that Whitworth ought to be paying student workers and other minimum wage campus employees greater than what the government mandates. Even if this was a mere $.25 per hour raise, the gesture would be felt. This modest raise may have some repercussions for Whitworth in terms of the number of student worker hours, requiring some areas such as the U-rec to employ fewer workers. To this I reply that Whitworth would better sell itself as an institution which cares about its student workers by hiring fewer of them at a decent wage than hiring large numbers of minimum wage workers for a couple of hours a week.

One Reply to “Whitworth ought to raise student wages”

  1. The people who are harmed by an increase in the minimum wage are low-skilled workers.
    Try this question to economists who argue against the unemployment effect of raising the minimum wage: Is it likely that an employer would find it smart to pay a worker $15 an hour when that worker has skills that enable him to produce only $5 worth of value an hour to the employer’s output? Most employers would view hiring such a worker as a losing economic proposition, but they might hire him at $5 an hour. Thus, one effect of the minimum wage law is that of discrimination against the employment of low-skilled workers.

    In America, the least skilled people are youths, who lack the skills, maturity and experience of adults. Black youths not only share these handicaps but have attended grossly inferior schools and live in unstable households. That means higher minimum wages will have the greatest unemployment effect on youths, particularly black youths.

    A minimum wage not only discriminates against low-skilled workers but also is one of the most effective tools in the arsenal of racists. Our nation’s first minimum wage came in the form of the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which sets minimum wages on federally financed or assisted construction projects. During the legislative debates, racist intents were obvious. Rep. John Cochran, D-Mo., said he had “received numerous complaints in recent months about Southern contractors employing low-paid colored mechanics getting work and bringing the employees from the South.” Rep. Miles Allgood, D-Ala., complained: “That contractor has cheap colored labor that he transports, and he puts them in cabins, and it is labor of that sort that is in competition with white labor throughout the country.” Rep. William Upshaw, D-Ga., complained of the “superabundance or large aggregation of Negro labor.”

    During South Africa’s apartheid era, the secretary of it’s avowedly racist Building Workers’ Union, Gert Beetge, said, “There is no job reservation left in the building industry, and in the circumstances, I support the rate for the job (minimum wage) as the second-best way of protecting our white artisans.” The South African Economic and Wage Commission of 1925 reported that “while definite exclusion of the Natives from the more remunerative fields of employment by law has not been urged upon us, the same result would follow a certain use of the powers of the Wage Board under the Wage Act of 1925, or of other wage-fixing legislation. The method would be to fix a minimum rate for an occupation or craft so high that no Native would be likely to be employed.”

    It is incompetence or dishonesty for economists to deny these two effects of minimum wages: discrimination against employment of low-skilled labor and the lowering of the cost of racial discrimination.

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