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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Opinion

Blame society for the changing face of minimum-wage workers


Societal treatment of minimum wage workers is appalling and often includes some form of the statement “they should’ve gone to college,” as if workers chose to be serving people for $7.25 an hour instead of attending college.

Instead of blaming the individual, look to the factors that forced them into that situation. There are some people who had no choice but to work a minimum wage job because college wasn’t affordable or accessible to them.

There are others who have a college degree and are working a minimum wage job anyway because the job hunt has been unforgiving in current economic conditions.

Almost half a million people with college degrees are working a minimum wage job, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2013 report, Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers.

That’s almost 120,000 more people than a decade ago. 260,000 of those people are bachelor’s degree-holders, working minimum wage jobs, whether they were federal or state-mandated minimum wage jobs, according to the BLS data.

The face of minimum wage workers is no longer synonymous with fresh-faced adolescents looking for first-time job experience. The face of minimum wage workers is now stressed young or older adults trying to survive with a degree that hasn’t gotten them anything higher than $7.25 an hour.

That’s the smallest number of Americans with at least a bachelor’s degree working in a minimum wage job since 2008, when the number was 187,000, and a definite improvement from 2010 when the number was 327,000. There were also 200,000 associate’s degree holders working those jobs.

But there shouldn’t be such a large number of college graduates working minimum wage jobs in the first place.

Contrary to the popular stereotype that teenagers are the majority demographic in minimum wage jobs, data from the Economic Policy Institute — a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank created to include underrepresented masses in economic policy discussions — said otherwise.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, 88 percent of workers are at least 20 years old and a third of them are at least 40 years old.

The face of minimum wage workers is no longer synonymous with fresh-faced adolescents looking for first-time job experience. The face of minimum wage workers is now stressed young or older adults trying to survive with a degree that hasn’t gotten them anything higher than $7.25 an hour.

In addition, BLS reported that despite 321,000 jobs added in November 2014 and a growing job economy, wages have stagnated and are not increasing to match inflation levels and the rising cost of living.

Many college graduates are also suffering from student loan debt and can’t afford to take months off without income — no matter how little — to search for higher-paying jobs. Shifts in the post-recession labor market have also been cited as a reason for an abundance of college graduates in low-paying jobs.

The National Employment Law Project, which works to promotes policies and programs geared toward creating good jobs helping unemployed workers through benefits and services, reported that low-wage jobs are the only jobs that are growing. On the other hand, wages — especially in low-wage jobs like retail and food prep workers — are declining.

While globalization and technology have been a gift to society, they have also decreased a number of what were previously middle-class jobs by outsourcing them or replacing them with technological advances.

A 2013 study by David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson found the digitization and outsourcing of certain tasks has reduced the number of decent-paying, routine-heavy jobs.

And instead of addressing and finding solutions to this issue, it is much easier to blame and reprimand the college graduate for not doing enough to get a high-paying job.

It is not the fault of college graduates that the jobs they were previously needed for are no longer available.

It is not their fault that the job economy and job competition have gotten rough. It is not their fault that they can only find work in a minimum wage job.

They have not failed society. Society has failed them.

Opinion columnist Julie Nguyen is a liberal arts senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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