By Matthew Pertz, Opinion Editor
In the midst of political turmoil, many young workers are focusing on the debate over boosting the minimum wage.
Both Lexington and Louisville pledged to raise their minimum wages last June. Businesses in Lexington now pay $8.20 an hour, while Louisville pays at least $8.25. However, Wilmore is in no rush to follow their examples.
“I would not be in favor of city legislators regulating wages,” Mayor Harold Rainwater said. “Since all our major employers are institutions, this would basically affect students and residents of retirement facilities.”
The argument over minimum wage was renewed this election cycle, led by former presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who advocated for an immediate jump in federal minimum wage to $15. The official Democratic Party Platform supported by nominee Hillary Clinton reads, “We should raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over time and…also support creating one fair wage for all workers by ending the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers and people with disabilities.”
Many Republicans, including presidential nominee Donald Trump, claim that slamming the minimum wage upward strains small businesses. Trump told Fox’s Neil Cavuto in August 2015, “But, taxes too high, wages too high, we’re not going to be able to compete against the world. I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is.” (Trump has since changed that stance and currently supports raising the federal minimum to $10 an hour.)
When factoring in inflation, college tuition has swollen to five times its size since 1983, but the minimum wage has actually dropped, according to numbers from the Department of Education and the Pew Research Center.
The conservative consensus is worth considering: could raising minimum wage hurt local businesses? A typical part-time worker in Lexington as of June 2016 would make $7.25 per hour for an average of 20 hours a week. After July 1, his/her hourly pay jumped to $8.20, which, at 20 hours per week a year, adds up to a cost of $938 for the employer. Having to shell out almost one thousand dollars simply to comply with federal law is a cost many small businesses simply cannot afford.
However, many students would argue that raising the minimum wage is necessary to compensate for excessive jumps in tuition. When factoring in inflation, college tuition has swollen to five times its size since 1983, but the minimum wage has actually dropped, according to numbers from the Department of Education and the Pew Research Center.
If minimum wage does jump under the next president, Asbury would not necessarily have to pay student workers more. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), colleges can take advantage of several exceptions to dodge paying $7.25 an hour.
The Full-Time Student Program allows certain universities to pay student workers as low as 85% of the federally mandated minimum. In addition, workers under the age of 20 can be paid as low as $4.25 per hour for their first 90 days of work.
It’s unclear whether or not Asbury would utilize these exemptions if the federal minimum wage spikes. However, the argument over the economic impact of raising wages shows no signs of stopping.