Pay student workers a livable wage

Safa Michigan, Columnist

​​Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the August 3 flipbook.

Austin is undeniably expensive. In fact, it was recently ranked the third-worst city for minimum wage earners out of 75 cities in the US. For most student workers, who don’t have the time to balance a full-time job with busy school schedules, this is a dire situation. 

The minimum wage in Texas is $7.25 an hour, but a one-bedroom apartment in West Campus  currently averages around $1,150. Several years ago, the city of Austin designated an official living wage of $15/hour. And yet, years later, UT students are working jobs that still pay them much less.

UT must institute a standardized minimum wage of $15/hour for all of its student workers to offset skyrocketing living costs in Austin and demonstrate a commitment to student welfare.

Alexis Carr, a psychology and African and African Diaspora Studies senior, receives $10/hour as a student associate for Texas Career Engagement under the work-study program.

“I just think that it’s just not a livable amount,” Carr said. “Work-study is convenient because it’s on campus and I am guaranteed scheduled shifts, but it would be even more convenient if we got paid more. … I can’t afford not to work. … It’s convenient, but other than that I wouldn’t take a job at the University because they don’t pay enough.”

Veronica Trevino, media manager of Financial and Administrative Services, said in an email that student compensation is determined by each hiring college, school or unit and ensures all wages are equal to or more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour.

“CSUs best understand the positions for which they hire, the responsibilities each job entails, the skill set needed and their internal policies and budgets, and the flexibility that can be offered to the student worker by the CSU,” Trevino said.

The harmful rhetoric that certain skill sets deserve more money reflects the often-parroted idea that “those who flip burgers don’t deserve as much as other kinds of workers.” All students deserve a livable wage, regardless of the type of labor they are performing for the University.

Low pay was the only factor that led Samantha Bryant, a health promotion and behavioral sciences senior, to quit her job as an activity supervisor at the UT Rec Center.

“$7.25 an hour at part-time status is not enough to pay for anything, anywhere,” Bryant said. “I know UT can afford (to raise minimum wage) and we deserve to not have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.” 

It’s not just undergraduate students who are underpaid. Yartiza Carmona, a second year doctoral student who works as a Teaching Assistant in the psychology department, has to commute 25 minutes to campus because she can’t afford to live nearby, and she doesn’t even receive benefits.

“The educational psychology department is notorious for not paying its TAs as much as, say, McCombs or Cockrell,” Carmona said. “The pay should be standardized across the board.”

Columbia University, New York University and the University of California System established a $15 minimum wage years ago. In 2020, they were joined by the University of Virginia, and several other schools in 2021, including the University of Michigan, the University of Memphis, the University of Colorado and the Indiana University System.

With the second-largest endowment in the nation, the University should be able to follow the lead of these comparable institutions and absorb the costs of increasing minimum wage with ease. 

The fight to raise the federal minimum wage is decades old, and at this point, $15/hour feels like a basic ask. It’s time for UT to catch up to the 21st century and pay its workers fairly.

Michigan is a Plan II and race, indigeneity and migration junior from Shreveport, Louisiana.