In 2014, it was estimated that 3.0 million individuals had wages at or below the federal minimum. In California, the federal minimum is $10 an hour, several dollars higher than most states in the U.S. Annually, that is roughly $20,800 a year. Perhaps that is enough for a high school student to live on; but what about the majority of working parents, single moms and dads trying to support not only themselves, but their children as well? Should only certain jobs deserve minimum wage, or should minimum wage differ with age?
In my first year of college, I worked at a Baskin Robbins during the slow winter months. Typically for me, the word ‘job’ meant actual work that involved stress management and keeping guests satisfied. This type of work, however, involved waiting on customers who could take—without exaggeration—five minutes to decide on exactly what they wanted to order. After the customer had left (and hopefully tossed a few dollars into the tip jar), I’d find myself wiping counters and tables for the hundredth time, scraping tubs, making waffle cones, and cleaning the waffle machine as a follow-up. Closing time involved perhaps the most work. Restocking, refilling, wiping down, putting away chairs, sweeping, and mopping were part of the nightly routine just before closing hours. Needless to say, when I drove home and walked in the door at half past ten, I wasn’t in the least bit exhausted from a “hard day’s work”.
In my third year of college I miraculously landed a job that offered more responsibility. A Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites was hiring a housekeeper. In my previous experience I’d spent a year working in the hotel industry and felt prepared.
Coming from a job such as Baskin Robbins—where the rush orders were few and manual labor lacked—resulted in something of a rude awakening.
While housekeeping didn’t involve nearly as much guest interaction, the manual labor was spoken for. A typical day would include fourteen rooms to clean spotless (to avoid the dreaded write up—three strikes and you’re out). The day began at eight o’ clock—but I soon learned to be there at least fifteen minutes early so all the linen wasn’t claimed. Hopefully by nine, at least one room is finished. By eleven thirty every room needs to be stripped of linen (including towels). By the time my lunch break rolls around, I’m already praying for strength and hoping the seven or eight rooms I have left don’t involve double queen beds and messy boarders.
Needless to say, by the time the workday finishes at four o’ clock, my lower back aches from wiping water droplets out of bathtubs. My fingers are split from the cleaning chemicals. My stomach is growling because on my lunch break I’m more consumed with restocking my linen than eating.
The difference between my past two jobs has been shocking. But it has lead me to ask a majority of other questions. At Baskin Robbins, my co-workers were high school students whose parents paid their car payments and phone bills. During the slow hours, they’d hide behind the giant freezer and text their friends whilst eating ice cream. Whereas at the Holiday Inn Express, my co-workers are single moms are on their feet nonstop and still yet struggle to get their full eight hours.
The difference between my past and present co-workers is enough to make one realize minimum wage doesn’t need to be the same for individuals of all ages. Why are two vastly different jobs paying two vastly different walks of life the same hourly? (Although, generally speaking, Baskin Robbins employees actually earn tips. Housekeepers? Not so much.)
The American economy has its downfalls. Companies such as the ever popular fast food franchises would quickly hire younger workers because it would be cheaper.
However, as they got older and became more experienced, their pay would rise, serving as an incentive for them to stay on the job. Meanwhile, the older, more experienced workers would take on the responsibilities too tough for the amateurs, resulting in a higher pay. As a result, the full time working adults don’t have to be part of the “working poor” group.
With any new solution, there are always drawbacks. Some high school students may be working toward college and feel their hourly rate should be as much as a twenty-year-old who isn’t attending anywhere. But the truth is, the American economy is hurting, making jobs scarce and finding work improbable. Adults who need to support themselves, their children, and pay rent sincerely deserve a higher income than a typical high school student who was pressured into finding a job by his parents.
As for the struggling college students, earning a degree may be just as difficult as earning a living. But with a higher income, it’s definitely possible.
This article was written by McKenna Vietti, a writer for dusk magazine.