Minimum wage, its not the same.

Minimum wage, its not the same.

by Doyle Ranstrom on Apr 12, 2021

The manager looked at me from the across the store and yelled, "if another one walks out, just walk with them".  I had been at my new job for about an hour.  After graduating from high school, I had moved to St. Cloud, MN to live with my sister and her family to find a summer job before starting college in the fall.  I was a couple of weeks away from turning 18. 

The job I had found earlier that  day was selling shoes in the mall for a National shoe store chain.  It was Monday night and my training which was basically, "we have a lot of shoes.  If someone walks in they need shoes.  If you do not sell them shoes, you are fired".

The store was busy and I had my first customer.  I showed her some shoes.  Keep in mind, I did not even know where shoes were located in the backroom not to mention to mention the difference between high heels, pumps, and walking shoes.  After trying one pair of shoes, the lady I was helping got up and left the store and that is when the manager gave me his motivational speech.  Across the store.  Full of people.  

I managed to hang on and by the end of the summer, I was the top salesman in the store.   The manager, wanted me to forget college and become his assistant manager.  I stayed with college, an excellent life choice, but after my Freshman year, did get a job working at the same chain store in the city where I attended college.  

Since I was less than a stellar scholar in high school, my 40-yard dash was measured by a sundial, and my jumping skills enabled me to touch the bottom of the basketball net on a good day, I did not receive any scholarship funds.   So, for all of my Freshman year and most of my Sophomore year, I took out student loans to pay tuition, room and board at the liberal arts college I attended in Minnesota.  My junior and senior year I paid for by working multiple jobs in the summer and 25-30 hours per week during the school year.   I actually made enough my junior and senior year to cover tuition room and board with some cash left over for social activities which could have been chapel but were not and refreshments, like soft drinks, but again were not.  

For the record, I did go to chapel the first four days of my Freshman year, and then the young lady I was seeing dumped me for a sophomore.  I took this as a sign from above that chapel was not for me.  

And here comes the point.  When I was in college, federal minimum wage was $1.60.  If a student worked a 1,000 hours in a year, they make $1,600 which would pay for about 67% of the private college I attended and 100% of the state university in the same city.  Today working a 1,000 hours at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 generates $7,250 of income.  This would pay for about 15% of the private liberal arts college I attended about 40% of the nearby state university.  

In other words, when I went to college, an industrious student working a 1,000 hours a year at minimum wage could pay tuition, room, and board at the state university.  Today, a student working a 1,000 hours at minimum wage could barely afford to pay rent, not to mention eat and pay for tuition.

For people my age, if they think it was harder back in the day then today for college students, they are having the special brownies with their coffee, which are now legal in many states.  

MIT publishes a "living wage" calculator.  In Montana, for example, the calculator states a living wage for single person is $13.94 per hour.  The minimum wage in Montana is $8.65.  Tuition, room and board at MSU is about $21,000.  My understanding tuition room and board in 1970 at MSU was about $2,000. You can do the math for yourself, but the summary is when the same amount of work buys less, someone is being taken advantage of.  

Many in our country believe as a Nation, we value work. I would respectfully disagree.  I would suggest we value wealth.  There are many in our country who believe if you can get people to work more and pay them less, that's a good for the economy.  It is good for accumulating personal wealth for some, but it is not good for a country that should value work and building personal financial independence.  And it is definitely not good for the economy.  

In a country which says it values both education and work, it would seem to me that the federal minimum wage should enable a hard-working student to work to get to an education with minimal or no student debt.  

Many states and companies throughout the country pay more than the federal minimum wage and that is a good thing.  However, the fact the federal minimum wage has lost substantial buying power over the years, sets the tone for the entire base economy of our country.  It needs to increase and I believe we will all benefit.