UT needs to raise its minimum wage for students

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Photo Credit: Ericka Suarez | Daily Texan Staff

It’s summer employment season. Students across UT are writing cover letters and submitting applications to find the perfect job or internship.

I’m one of them. These past few weeks, I’ve been scouring websites such as Internships.com and Glassdoor to find the ideal place to spend my summer — or at least an employer willing to hire me. 

As an 18-year-old student, I don’t have much leverage when it comes to my wage. I don’t have enough experience to negotiate, and entry-level jobs don’t come with much flexibility. Students like me are stuck hoping their employer will pay them enough to get by.

You won’t find that hope realized at UT. With undergraduate student salaries often ranging from $8-12 per hour, many on-campus student workers do not make a living wage. As such, UT needs to raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour.

This proposal isn’t outlandish. It isn’t needlessly progressive. It is a necessary increase to ensure all student workers at UT can make enough to achieve a decent standard of living.

Austin is an expensive city. With a booming tech industry and a skyrocketing population, it costs more and more to live here each year. Last year, Austin saw the largest cost of living increase in the United States in terms of absolute dollars — which is why the City of Austin defines a living wage in Austin to be $15 per hour and pays all city employees accordingly. It’s the income you need to live in Austin and meet your basic needs.

But at UT, students don’t just need to meet basic needs. Students bear additional costs an average employee does not face. Tuition, textbooks, equipment and organization fees all add up.

UT employs 11,000 student workers in various positions and departments. Rob Richardson, the University’s principal human resources consultant for student employment, said in an email that compensation rates vary between each University department.

“Departments may have internal hourly minimum pay rates for new student employees and may make compensation decisions based on the job responsibilities performed by the student employee,” Richardson said. “All departments must pay their student employees at or above the federal minimum wage.”

University Unions, UT RecSports, Parking and Transportation and Texas Athletics advertise jobs between $8 and $12 per hour. Jobs found on Hire a Longhorn Job Bank, an employment website for students, offer similar rates. This is not enough.

“There is a general view that when one is working, one should be making a living wage,” said James Galbraith, Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. Chair in government and business relations at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. Galbraith supports raising the minimum wage on a federal level to $15 per hour. 

“From a student standpoint, they’re better off getting a higher wage, working fewer hours, having more time to make themselves effective, successful students — which is their primary purpose,” Galbraith said.

This is especially true for students on work-study, who must work to earn financial aid. With a $15 minimum wage, work-study students will have to work fewer hours to earn their financial aid award. This leaves more time for studying and joining organizations, advantages their wealthier peers already enjoy. 

Several universities across the United States maintain a $15 minimum wage, including Columbia, New York University and the University of California System. The list grows all the time, with the University of Virginia announcing plans to raise its minimum wage last month.

UT needs to join the list. It is inexcusable that a student working for the second-wealthiest university system in the country does not earn enough to live in their city. A $15 minimum wage will reduce inequality, decrease financial stress and ensure students can spend time doing what they’re meant to do: being students. 

Springs is a government freshman from Dallas.