Richson: Minimum wage negativities


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In his State of the Union address on Feb. 12, President Obama suggested that high corporate profits did not correlate with the fact that wages have generally not increased within the past decade.

The minimum wage has not been federally adjusted since 2009, when it was set at $7.25 per hour. However, states also have their own minimum-wage laws, Iowa included, but the federal minimum wage trumps the state minimum wage by default if the state minimum wage is lower than the federal mark of $7.25.

Obama suggested that the minimum wage be raised to $9 an hour, obviously well over Iowa’s mark of $7.25. While no employee would feasibly argue with such an increase, an increase might have implications as far as businesses having to streamline their employment process.

University of Iowa student-employment Director Cynthia Seyfer said the university historically employs around 7,000 students for various hourly jobs, although this number obviously fluctuates.

As of January, nearly 3,500 students employed by the university were earning less than $9 per hour.

Obviously, with a university job, there is a general understanding that a student is a student first and an employee second. Students will be less likely to pick up hours around midterms or finals.

But a higher federal minimum wage could put pressure on individual employers to either demand more from the students they do employ or decrease hours of operation.

“If [the increase in minimum wage] means that individual employers employ fewer people because their budgets don’t change, ultimately that’s not a positive thing,” Seyfer said.

An alternative may present itself to students in need, however, through Iowa’s work-study program, in which an employer pays a student half the wages and the federal government the rest.

If the minimum wage does increase, the federal government would at least be fiscally responsible for the imposition in terms of the employment of students in work-study. But students employed by the university who don’t demonstrate financial need that qualifies for work-study could soon find themselves as students only rather than students-first.

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