There was a stark juxtaposition of lead articles in the Daily Sun last week. Jan. 29th’s story, “NAU Student wage petition gains support,” reported on a petition to raise the minimum wage for NAU student employees to above $8.50/hr. The following day’s headline, “Student wages to be reduced?” reported on a move in the opposite direction; the introduction of a state bill permitting businesses to pay part-time student employees, under 23 years, the $7.25 federal minimum wage.
The second article highlighted the enthusiastic support of the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce, quoting a spokesperson saying, “we think it is great for students and young people.” According to the Chamber, “minimum wage laws have made it more difficult for students to find work,” and the bill “would make young people more competitive…” How raising the minimum wage reduces job opportunities for students is puzzling, but the full statement reveals why the Chamber supports the bill. If it were to become law, students would certainly be more competitive with non-students. Businesses would let go of their $12 an hour-workers, replacing them with those they can pay $7.25.
Hopefully this will never happen. The bill is likely not legal since Arizona voters increased the minimum wage in 2016 without any “carve-outs.” If it were to pass, while some might be desperate enough to work for such a miserable wage, for most students it simply isn’t worth it. The Jan. 29 story illustrates the difficulty of NAU students meeting basic needs on a wage less than the Flagstaff minimum of $12/hr.
The Chamber should re-evaluate its support for this bill. It is a way around the minimum wage that has twice been supported by Flagstaff voters. Let’s not seek to reverse this progress and backslide to even more income inequality