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Holitza: A $15 minimum wage is only a small step forward

Changes to the non-tenure track faculty hiring and pay at Colorado State University have resulted in significant changes for current Ph.D. students. Ph.D. students who are working as instructors have lost health, dental, vision and life insurance and their retirement plan options. In order to maintain their employment, some students are having to pay the University for credit hours and have opted into the student health insurance plan. (Photo Illustration by Colin Shepherd | The Collegian)

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Here in Colorado, residents have a high $12.32 per hour minimum wage compared to the national average of $7.25 per hour. President Joe Biden’s proposed legislation would see a $2.68 per hour raise for workers across the state. Their goal is to provide a struggling nation with the support they deserve during these unprecedented times. In Larimer County, it is a stretch to say our $12.32 per hour minimum wage is enough to live comfortably on. It’s enough to scrape by but not nearly a living wage.

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A living wage in our fairly inexpensive city is not incredibly high. However, this is for an individual living alone with no children. For a family with children, even an increase to a minimum wage of $15 per hour would not be enough.

This Massachusetts Institute of Technology tool calculates the living wage for a specified area. It indicates a living wage of $16.25 per hour for an individual with no children in Larimer County, but a living wage for someone who is single with a child ($34.46 per hour) is nearly double that of the first individual. The hourly rate that makes a living wage exponentially increase is based on the number of children an individual or couple has.

Keep in mind that this tool was last updated in 2019, meaning that numbers may have slightly increased since then.

In the United States, the hourly rate that determines where the poverty line sits differs considerably based on where an individual resides. For example, in locations such as New York City, making ends meet with the current minimum wage of $15 per hour is a difficult feat when considering the city’s cost of living.

Location matters a lot in determining what the right minimum wage is for residents. The goal appears to be that raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour will hopefully push states to increase it more over time. This would be a start toward helping those less fortunate and impoverished to at least have the ability to make ends meet.

Just imagine living in a state such as Georgia, where the state’s minimum wage ($5.15 an hour) is not enough to match the federal minimum wage ($7.25 an hour), but most employers are required to pay $7.25 per hour. If the minimum wage is raised, it would more than double the hourly rate these people receive. The passing of this legislation would change the lives of many Americans and would be a huge advancement toward valuing every citizen regardless of profession. 

When discussing what makes a living wage, it is also important to understand the difference between working in rural and urban areas. A majority of jobs are centered in urban areas where the median income is generally higher than in rural counties, but the cost of living is exponentially greater in urban areas.

But will employers use a higher minimum wage as an opportunity to help their employees? Will they cut executive salaries or will they raise prices and participate in widespread layoffs? Inflation and the gradual increase of price happens without the increase of minimum wage, so it suggests that increasing it will affect the economy in a positive manner.

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Biden made the $15 minimum wage a large part of his campaign throughout 2020. Many likely voted for him based on his support of this very tangible bill. This would mean there would be a significant amount of voters directly experiencing the positive impacts of their choice should this legislation be passed.

A $15 minimum wage is only a small step in the right direction, and there are a number of groups who claim the bill is still only barely a living wage. It can provide for individuals, but when it comes to college education, medical care or any other significantly large cost, it will not suffice.

Exploring these avenues of social security reform could change the future of the nation with job pathways that truly allow for people to grow and everyone to have an equal chance.

Mason Holitza can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @MHolitza.

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