Senior Abbi Kemperman works a part-time job at Classic Pizza. In addition to the time she spends at school, equivalent to a full-time job in itself, she said she spends between 16 and 32 hours a week working to make money to pay for her car insurance, gas and other expenses.
“I have time to work, go to school, and do homework, but that’s about it,” Kemperman said.
Like many high school students, Kemperman makes minimum wage, currently $7.40 an hour.
Working three or four days in an average week, senior Peyton Chrisner earns only slightly more.
“I work between 10 and 20 hours a week and make $8 an hour,” she said.
Panera Bread, where Chrisner works, pays employees above minimum wage, but soon this salary may still be too low.
Following President Obama’s State of the Union address on Jan. 28, where he argued for an increase in the federal minimum wage, the debate regarding proposals to increase minimum wages, nationally and for each state, regained momentum.
Obama announced a plan to create an executive order that would increase the minimum wage for federally funded employees to $10.10. He also urged Congress to raise the federal minimum wage for all employees, which is currently $7.25. Tip wages, for workers who also receive tips, and wages for minors are allowed to be even lower.
“They’re allowed to not pay you minimum wage if you’re under 18,” Kemperman said.
Democrats in the Michigan legislature have proposed plans to increase Michigan minimum wages, but both federal and state congresses have disagreement as to whether raising minimum wage would help or harm the economy.
Politicians in favor of increasing minimum wage argue that those working for such wages do not make enough to support themselves and their families. Thus, increasing minimum wage would decrease the number of people living in poverty and, as a result, help the economy.
In his state of the Union Address, Obama said, “Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about 20 percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10. This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend.”
However, Natalie Park, owner of Coffee House Creamery on Jackson Road, does not think this sudden change would be a realistic option for small businesses.
“It would not jump to $10.10 right away. No business would survive it,” Park said. “You can’t raise any price (including wages) 40 percent.”
Only recently-hired workers at Coffee House Creamery work for minimum wage. Still, Park said an increase in minimum wage would also require her to make other changes in her business beyond wages.
According to Park, increased wages also mean that employers have to pay increased taxes and insurance. These changes could force her to change her policy of increasing employee salaries based on their length of employment. Park would also have to raise prices.
While she opposes a dramatic change, Park is not completely against the idea of slightly increasing minimum wage.
“I don’t think it’s terrible,” she said, “but it could be very dangerous.”
Primarily, the movement to increase minimum wage is targeted to aid adults working full time. The intent is to help families living in poverty, but teenagers could still see changes in their earnings as a result. Chrisner, however, does not object to her current salary.
“I don’t really mind (the current minimum wage) because I use the money for car insurance but don’t have major bills or adult expenses,” she said.
Despite this, both Kemperman and Chrisner agree that an increase in the minimum wage would be beneficial. Kemperman, for example, said she could use the extra money to buy extra things that she would like.
“Three quarters of my pay checks go to gas, so I’d have more money for other things that aren’t gas,” she said.
For Chrisner, the changes would be different. She said that she spends all of her earnings, but a higher minimum wage would let her put some of her paycheck away for a rainy day.
“I would actually consider saving some (if I made more),” she said. “I know I should be saving for college.”
An increase in minimum wage would similarly benefit senior Collin Ullmann, who works at McDonald’s.
“It would make college a lot easier,” he said. “(With current wages) I would have to work 50 hours a week over the summer to make the money I need.”