The image on the left is me, the last time I earned minimum wage. During my college summers I worked two jobs to save for the school year. Minimum wage was $3.35 per hour in 1981. The image on the right is a glimpse of our new front door with temporary signage and a vivid poster we wish we didn’t have to explain.
This poster will have been up in our front window for about a month when the ordinance requiring that employees receive a minimum wage of $10 in the City of St. Louis is rolled back to the prior rate of $7.70 on August 28. This rollback is the result of actions of the Missouri Legislature. Though our offices moved to the city just a month ago, we raised our own minimum wage appreciably back in 2015, and we have no reason to roll back. We are The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis; what does minimum wage have to do with us?
Here’s why minimum wage matters to our mission:
- Every student funded by The Scholarship Foundation has significant financial need, and many will be first in their families to earn a degree. Working families and struggling young adults comprise the core of our work. Minimum wage matters very much to the new students and parents who are walking past that sign this summer to attend orientation in our new offices in the city.
- Most of our students work one or more jobs in order to pay basic bills. An argument made for a lower minimum wage is that service industries employ part-time or summer student workers who can afford a lower wage. This assumes student wages are “fun money” or “extra”. Maybe somewhere, for some students, working is not an absolute financial necessity. But our students, and most city students, work to eat, to pay utilities, to cover gaps in cost of healthcare and education, to buy gas or to get to school, or to pay babysitters. Their interest in earning a fair wage is our interest too.
- Federal Work-Study programs require payment of at least the prevailing minimum wage. Soon, students with work study jobs at Saint Louis University, Harris-Stowe State University, and St. Louis Community College-Forest Park will have shorter paychecks (by 23%) if those institutions roll back their minimums, while tuition rises and other forms of financial aid are simultaneously cut or endangered.
We believe that democracy requires educated and engaged participation, and that education should be accessible to all regardless of economic circumstance. It stands to reason that paying people less than a living wage does not further that mission.
Consider contacting your state representative, or your alderman if you live in the city, and express your view on this topic. If you are an employer, consider joining The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis in expressing a commitment to voluntarily paying the raise the city authorized. We are not rolling back; we are moving forward.
– Faith Sandler