Minimum wage increase takes effect at VC

New York’s minimum wage increased at the end of 2013 from the federal minimum of $7.25 to $8 an hour. It is one of 13 states to raise the minimum wage at the start of 2014. A total of 21 states now have minimum wages above $7.25 an hour (USA Today, “13 states raising pay for minimum-wage workers,” 12.30.13).

Vassar students working for minimum wage either saw the increase at the beginning of the year or will see the increase as they return to their campus jobs after winter break.

Assistant Director of Financial Aid and Student Employment Brianne Balzer explained in an emailed statement, “Any student that was making less than $8/hour last semester has had their hourly wage increased to $8/hour for payroll periods after December 31st, 2013.”

“The change will have a small impact on students,” said Director of Financial Aid and Student Employment Jessica Bernier in an emailed statement. “However, some students will see a small raise as anyone who had a job that paid them under $8 per hour will now get paid at the new minimum wage. For some, this may be a bi-weekly raise of $12-15, assuming they were earning $7.25 per hour and are working 8-10 hours per week.”

“Students receiving this wage increase will be earning slightly more during the spring; but keep in mind all students are only eligible to earn their financial aid work study allotment based on the financial aid award and/or class year,” said Balzer. “The wage increase was already factored into the work study allotments per class year when we did the financial aid awards for 2013/14 last spring and summer,” she continued.

Matthew Gabriele ’16 worried about this, saying. ”One concern I had was reaching the student contribution earlier because of the increase—so making less money overall— but I’m glad to hear that the financial aid office thought about that. I know some of my friends were worried about that too, especially those who work the maximum amount of hours every week.”

Berneir continued, “Mainly, the changes involved doing a mass update in JobX to update the wages and also in our Banner system as well as updating our forms, manuals, JobX website and handbooks,” she explained.

The New York minimum wage will continue to rise over the next few years. This increase is one of three that will occur according to the state budget approved by the New York Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo. By the end of 2014, most workers will receive $8.75 an hour and then $9 by the end of 2015 (New York Post, “NY increasing minimum wage to $8 an hour in 2014,” 12.27.13).

Tipped workers, however, might not benefit from the increase. The minimum for these employees is $5 an hour. The maximum tip credit—credit against the employee’s minimum wage—could be raised to $3 an hour, then $3.75, and finally $4 in a span of three years (New York Post).

“The increase is nice for someone that has other means of support,” said Gabriele, who works at the music library in Skinner Hall.

“I’m grateful that my job on campus is not my only source of income. But for people who live off of minimum wage, they’re still going to struggle,” he conjectured. “I think the extra seventy-five cents is going to help people who didn’t need the increase in the first place more than those who did.”

Gabriele went further, noting the cost of living in New York. “Living in New York is also a factor. It is more expensive to live here than more rural states, and that should definitely be taken into consideration,” he said.

Regional Programs Intern at Alumni Affairs and Development Cady Cirbes ’16 agreed with Gabriele, stating, “I didn’t have any objections to being paid $7.25 an hour because I don’t really depend on it.”

Cirbes continued, “For Vassar students like me, it’s just a bigger supplement income than before. But for other Vassar students—and obviously people outside Vassar—who depend on minimum wage, I don’t know how much seventy-five cents more will help. ”

According to non-profit organization Hunger Action Network, the rise will not help; they say eight dollars an hour is a “sub-poverty wage” (New York Post).

Hunger Action’s Executive Director Mark Dunlea said, “Historically, the minimum wage was for a single worker with two dependents at the poverty level.” Activists for the working poor are encouraging the New York government to instead raise minimum wage to anywhere from $10 to $15 an hour, and include tipped workers as well (New York Post).

Bernier noted, “The major change that was made is that we [the Financial Aid and Student Employment Offices] increased the work study allotment in the financial aid package for students to ensure that they could continue to work 8-10 hours per week for the entire academic year without reaching their work study allotment before the end of the year.”

“We know that students rely on these funds to cover their expenses and we didn’t want anyone to stop working because they had reached their limit,” she continued.

“I don’t think legislatures really had students in mind when deciding to increase minimum wage,” said Cirbes. “Or they might have thought of high school students working for minimum rather than college students.”

She said, “While I’m glad action is finally being taken, I think the government should focus on people with families who have to survive on minimum. The increase is just a perk for me, but it’s vital for others.”

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