Working for pennies

Dying for a raise? Well, if you just started a minimum wage job, luck is on your side. You need only wait until January for a 15-cent raise. Everyone else must wait for his or her employer’s discretion.

Dying for a raise? Well, if you just started a minimum wage job, luck is on your side. You need only wait until January for a 15-cent raise. Everyone else must wait for his or her employer’s discretion.

On Sept. 20, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries announced that minimum wage will increase from $7.80 to $7.95 beginning Jan. 1, 2008. Washington has yet to formally announce the increase, but right now it’s estimated that their $7.93 current minimum wage will increase to $8.07, continuing to be the highest minimum wage in the United States. Annually, Washington and Oregon update their minimum wages according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index.

As the demand for jobs grows, with more people needing jobs than ever before, with a workforce of Baby Boomers and their children, and with fewer jobs due to outsourcing, corporations can get away with paying less and less. Minimum wage jobs tend to be physically and emotionally taxing, as workers rush around on their feet and deal with rude customers, while executives and shareholders sit behind a desk watching the figures roll in. Minimum wage is the absolute lowest pay rate that a company can legally offer its employees, and it is disgusting how often that is all a corporation is willing to pay its employees, with paltry annual increases. Then the corporations increase consumer prices to make up for the wage increases, continuing the ugly inflation cycle.

With minimum wage increases, newer employees can end up making the same or more money than tenured employees. This happens because some companies pay a certain amount above minimum wage. For example, a company that pays 15 cents above minimum wage will give employees hired now through December $7.95 per hour until their next staff review, while employees hired in January or later will begin making $8.10.

Another way that tenured employees end up jilted is by working for a company that hires employees at minimum wage. Most employees have to wait a full year before their first raise, which is typically a mere 10 or 15 cents above their starting wage. For employees that have reviews this fall, their increases will be based on $7.80 an hour in Oregon, whereas employees that have their reviews after January will have increases based off of $7.95.

While it’s good to have a minimum wage to keep corporations in check, it’s often not enough to sustain an individual, especially with quickly increasing housing costs. Students working less than 20 hours per week earn better grades, but according to the Education Resource Information Center, 74 percent of undergraduates work 25.5 hours per week. At a minimum wage of $7.95, that means the average undergraduate earns only $10,541.70 before being gouged by taxes, with at least half of that going toward rent unless the student lives with parents. This means that when most students graduate, there is a mountain of debt awaiting them and the hope that there will be a good-paying job as well.

The problem is that even higher end jobs are slipping closer and closer to minimum wage. In an ideal world, corporations would look out for the best interests of their employees, but since this is not the case, there should be an annual wage percentage increase for all employees, in addition to the minimum wage increase. This way, tenured employees would be rewarded for their service as well.

For now, try to avoid the minimum wage trap. Try to find a service job in which you can earn commission or tips if you are sales orientated. If you are customer service orientated, find a retailer or call center that pays high wages. There are myriad options. For example, ask your employer if they offer tuition reimbursement, which can sometimes offset a meager hourly wage. Even if that company isn’t related to your ideal field, most employers will offer reimbursement for general and language courses.

Just don’t sell yourself short.