For many freshmen, working a job at a dining hall like Gordon’s or Rheta’s Market is a rite of passage, lured by the prospect of discounted meals or an elevator being the only commute from their dorm to work.

While these jobs have always been temporary in their nature, the past year has seen a major decline in the number of student employees, with dining halls especially seeing many resignations early in the semester. It’s worth discussing one of the root causes — the low wages.

It’s not that the university hasn’t raised wages before — as early as 2019, the university raised the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The catch? It excluded student hourly employees.

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The university’s student minimum wage became $9 per hour when it was bumped up from the state wage of $7.25 in 2019. As of 2020, the minimum wage on campus for student hourly employees is $10 and the maximum is $25, but most student jobs effectively start at $11. This is certainly an improvement compared to the state minimum wage, but as it has still not been enough to entice students to work, the need for a raise is clear.

In this past year, the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain issues and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have contributed to a 7.9% increase in the Consumer Price Index —
a measure of goods and services critical to an economy. Students aren’t made of cash even in the best of times, so these increases will demand a lot from them. To combat this, the university must raise the student minimum wage to at least $12 per hour.

There is support from the Associated Students of Madison on this issue. Earlier this year, ASM voted to increase the wages of their internal student positions from $10.50 to $12 per hour. Citing the rising cost of living and staffing shortages, ASM felt this was a necessary step to create a precedent for the university.

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Of course, some may argue that since student positions have always been seen as temporary jobs, there is no need to raise the wages. But we are seeing the impacts of this refusal to budge. Every dining hall is noticeably understaffed. The hours of Union restaurants are subject to how many employees they can muster. Students are going to higher-paying jobs both on and off-campus — and who can blame them?

Beyond the logistical consequences, there is also the moral component. The price of living has gone up substantially in the last six years, making it harder for students to afford the necessities — not to mention the increasing role of loans in financing higher education. It’s clear that financial pressures are rising.

If the university hopes to attract any student workers in the foreseeable future, it must raise its minimum wage to at least $12 per hour for all employees as a first step in alleviating some of these pressures.

Akshay Kalra ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in community and nonprofit leadership and political science.