By Eric Santiago
An effort to increase the federal minimum wage has been bolstered after House democrats introduced a petition that could force a congressional vote on the debate. A passed bill would mean sweeping economic changes for the entire country.
The charge is being led by Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif) and they are nearing the 218 signatures it will take to bring the Fair Minimum Wage Act to the House floor. If passed, it will raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from where it currently stands at $7.25, but the issue is more complicated than just paying workers more money. Higher wages mean higher costs for employers, who might not be able to afford having as many workers.
The issue strikes home for college students, around 80 percent of whom are said to be working part time while in school, according to a survey conducted by Citigroup and Seventeen Magazine. If implemented, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates 500, 000 jobs will be lost, many of which will be the low paying jobs held by students. At the same time, the CBO says overall earnings would increase by an estimated $31 billion. With so many factors in play, it’s not clear how this would effect college students.
Bishop thinks they’d benefit from the bill.
“I think this would affect college students positively,” said Bishop in a telephone interview, who also admitted that college students are not the intended target of the bill.
According to Bishop, the bill is designed to help low income families who are living day to day on a minimum wage salary. But he argued their increased purchasing power would add more jobs to the economy, which college students could then take advantage of.
It’s not that simple according to Warren Sanderson, a labor economics professor at Stony Brook University.
“If you increase the minimum wage, you make minimum wage work less attractive to employers,” said Sanderson.
This is because employers will look for ways to avoid paying workers more money for low-skilled labor. Options range from outsourcing work to foreign countries to replacing workers with robots. The customer support and automotive agencies are two recent examples where this has happened.
“On the other hand, when you increase the minimum wage, workers spend more money, which creates more jobs,” said Sanderson. “The net result is basically unclear.”
That hasn’t stopped students from speculating on what life with a $10.10 minimum wage could look like.
“It would certainly help me out short term, as I currently make under that,” said Phil Grippi, a senior film major at Stony Brook who works at a movie theater. “But I’m assuming taxes would increase to accommodate the change.”
Grippi isn’t the only one to express cautious optimism.
“I think it would be very good, it would generate an air of affordability,” said Peter Paluch, a junior chemistry major at Stony Brook. “But frankly it’s not black and white because heads of companies will definitely find ways to circumvent the issue of higher wages.”
According to Bishop the petition has 195 signatures so far, leaving 23 to go before the bill can be voted on in the House of Representatives. Whether or not that will actually happen remains to be seen, but with the cost of living rising and wages remaining stagnant, this issue isn’t going anywhere.