Raising the Floor
Inside Higher Ed
June 10, 2021
Earlier this year, President Biden proposed legislation that, if passed, would have created a $15 national minimum wage. Despite support from fellow Democrats, the minimum wage raise failed to become law.
However, some universities have continued to raise their own minimum wages to $15. This year, a number of institutions, including Clarke University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Rochester and the University of Kentucky, have released plans to bring their own institutional minimum wage to $15.
These institutions don’t represent the first to reach this milestone. Other colleges and universities already have such a minimum wage, either by choice or by the laws of their jurisdictions. (New York City and Washington, D.C., for example, both home to many colleges and universities, both enforce a $15 minimum.)
But these recent decisions underscore the growing upward pressure on university wages. The Fight for $15, an advocacy campaign for a $15 minimum wage started by the Service Employees International Union and other groups, began in 2012. Since then, many large employers, such as Target, Amazon, Whole Foods and Costco, have raised their own minimum starting wages to $15. New York State is set to increase its minimum wage for fast food workers to $15 this July. Not only will colleges and universities need to compete with these other employers, those that do not raise wages could potentially see the reputational damage of paying less than an employer like Wendy’s.
Additionally, following the COVID-19 pandemic and 2020’s movement for racial justice, an increasing number of students have begun discussing treatment of lower-wage staff as a racial justice issue. At many institutions, the nonadministrative staff is made up of a majority people of color. At some, the staff is a majority Black. At others, it is majority Latinx.