This year I made $7.25 an hour working part-time. I also made that two years ago, except inflation wasn’t nearly this bad. Then, a paycheck could often afford me money for fuel, car insurance, and even sometimes groceries. Today, it seems that I can barely afford the three necessities in two paychecks.
Since 2009, the federal minimum wage has not budged, and this means in Kentucky, where the state has not adopted a higher minimum wage, our lives are dictated by an old, outdated number.
While all generations reel from increased prices, mine earns the lowest wages in the labor market. With inflation approaching the 10 percent mark for the year, it’s time to relieve us young people. The federal minimum wage should be increased in order to provide protection from inflation to young people.
According to Pew Research, people aged 16–24 represent over 50 percent of minimum wage earners. For me, I’d have to work two full days to fill a tank of gas. In 2009, the national average price for one gallon of gas was $1.73. Today, gas has skyrocketed to $4.65 per gallon. Yet, the minimum wage across both periods has stayed constant at $7.25 per hour.
At the rate we’re going, a gallon of milk could well require an hour of work.
This has vast consequences — for everyone. Not just teens. As millions of breadwinners lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19, young people had to find work to feed their families. The Urban Institute finds that approximately 10 percent of teens work in excess of 20 hours per week — an income that millions of households rely on for groceries, utilities and money for transportation.
For young people, like myself, who have to juggle 40 hours of school, 20 hours of work, and many more hours of studying, the weekly hours can quickly exceed the 80 hour mark — accounting for nearly half of the hours in the week. While many adults work in excess of 80 hours, these are adults who have the responsibility of doing so — different from the millions of us young people who should be given the opportunity to focus on school and extracurriculars or hanging out with friends. If students are expected to spend over 50 percent of their week working, shouldn’t we be getting paid well for it?
One may think that raising the minimum wage leads to increased inflation. This claim is hardly true. In fact, economic sociologist Adam Hayes finds that prices grow by 0.36 percent for every 10 percent increase in the minimum wage. Increasing the minimum wage has little impact on inflation; it does, however, have a high impact on families all across our country.
While many families rely on youth wages for financial stability, youth wages are also important for youth. Having a disposable income and learning about financial literacy is an important part of growing up and preparing for adulthood.
Youth lacking a disposable income is detrimental to their social lives. One has less money to pay for Netflix, a new pair of Nike Air Forces or grabbing dinner and a movie with friends — all things that are essential to socialization. While these items may seem materialistic, the anxiety of a young person who is forced to spend the entirety of their paycheck on essentials, rather than fun, is very real.
However, the impact of not having a disposable income is much more profound than social isolation. According to the Urban Institute, disposable incomes are linked to an increase in health and longevity.
Moreover, the Urban Institute also finds that having less disposable income denies young people from having the opportunity to invest in themselves and their careers. For instance, Harvard College’s most popular course is its online computer science course, CS50, which requires a payment of $149.
With the labor market becoming increasingly competitive, young professionals need higher wages in order to enroll in online classes in fields such as computer science, leadership and business.
If the United States seeks to raise a generation of problem solvers, then why not give that generation the opportunity to invest in itself? My generation will tackle the vast and systemic inequities that other generations failed to address — but, they must be paid in a way that enables them to do so.
Zachary Clifton is a student at the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science and a board member of the KY YMCA Youth Association.