It’s graduation day, and the sun gleams down on a young student as she slowly approaches the stage. She shakes President Gregory Dell’Omo’s hand, grinning broadly, and she takes her diploma. Just a few days later, under a perfectly clear sky and as the birds serenade her, she heads off to her very first full-time job. For most of us college students, this is the glorious endgame that we are working toward.
But for most of us in this country, this will not happen.
In 2014, CNN reported that around 260,000 college graduates were working minimum-wage jobs. This vast number of people earned either exactly the federal minimum wage of $7.25, or something below that. This fact surely sends a bleak cloud to hover over our post-graduation daydreams.
With all the recent talk about minimum wage and if it should be raised to $15, another important question comes to light: Is it really impossible to live on minimum wage? With all of us on our way to jobs in our preferred careers, the answer to this question is highly pertinent.
In short, the answer is no. It’s nearly impossible to live on minimum wage, even if you have a full-time job.
The long answer comes as the result of some good old-fashioned mathematics.
Let’s center this story around a recent college graduate. If a graduate begins a full-time, 40-hour-per-week job that pays the New Jersey minimum wage, which is $8.38, they will make about $1,341 on a typical month before taxes. Let’s assume that student lives in a fairly cheap studio apartment in Trenton. The cheapest rent I could find was $600 a month, already cutting their monthly wage down to $741. After subtracting an average $100 for cable and Internet, as well as an average $178 for electricity, that only leaves $463.
The United States Department of Agriculture states that the monthly cost of a thrifty diet for men and women our age is about $188 and $167, respectively. Averaging the costs for men and women comes to $177 a month, leaving $286. If this graduate has accumulated any debt, their story becomes even sadder — the national average monthly student loan payment is $242.
This leaves only about $44 monthly. But these numbers don’t even take taxes, additional bills, household item costs or transportation prices into consideration. With these prices, a calculator provided by The New York Times estimated that this student will only have about $933 dollars remaining yearly. This simply is not just a crippling wage — this is impossible.
The argument against raising the minimum wage often targets workers in fast food establishments, grocery stores, restaurants and so on. If they didn’t want to get paid minimum wage, they should’ve gone to school and made something of themselves, right? Wrong. Self-worth is not equated to job status. And college graduates obviously earned their bachelor’s degrees, but many of them are still in minimum wage jobs with earnings that are simply impossible to live on.
But what does this mean for those of us here at Rider, working to get a degree that might not even get us well-paying jobs in our desired fields? Are we doomed?
Of course not. An even bigger truth of the job market is that it is so much harder to find a job or seek out a promotion if you don’t have a degree. Sure, a lot of college students are trapped in minimum-wage jobs. However, without our degrees, this grim possibility would be one of the only options available to us. In addition, here at Rider, we receive more information and training pertaining to our specific careers than we could likely find all on our own.
In addition, working a minimum wage job carries many benefits as well. Sometimes, it can be difficult to get a job if you have no prior work experience. Any job will help build that repertoire. These jobs also teach lessons that cannot be learned through other avenues. They teach patience, perseverance, commitment and understanding of how big businesses function. Minimum wage jobs can have a serious impact on future career opportunities. And in a society where prices keep mounting, it’s miles above unemployment.
Yes, it is nearly impossible to survive on minimum wage. No, this is not a future that any of us want to face, even though it’s certainly not the worst prospect. And no, many of us may not ever face these issues. But there are many others out there, some without degrees but many with them, struggling to make ends meet simply because of the disproportionate gap between the costs of living and minimum wage.
Get involved. Start advocating and lobbying for a raise in minimum wage. Vote for candidates whose stances mirror your own on issues. We are the generation that will inherit this country and its future, and if we use our voices, we can make sure that we are heard.
And don’t ever forget — before you make fun of someone working for almost nothing, 260,000 former students, just like you, are standing there and working with them.
The weekly editorial expresses the majority opinion of The Rider News. This week’s editorial was written by the Opinion Editor, Samantha Sawh.
Printed in the 9/21/16 issue.