High wages, high morale

Minimum wage increase leads students to reflect on their work environments

Maya Watson is a student employee at Einstein’s Bagels, one of Seattle Pacific’s many employment opportunities for students on campus. (Sharli Mishra)

On Jan. 1, Washington’s minimum wage increased from $13.69 to $14.49. Gov. Jay Inslee has made efforts to increase minimum wage since Raise Up Washington in 2016, passing Initiative 1433 to raise minimum wage. 

In September 2020, Inslee tweeted: “The minimum wage in Washington is higher than other states. And guess what? Our economy is stronger for it. Because Washingtonians know that our economy thrives when people have more money in their pockets.” 

Many students at SPU were unaware of the increase and remain uncertain about whether this will affect their pay. The Falcon reached out to the Office of Student Employment for more information on the effect the minimum wage increase might have on student wages but did not receive a reply. However, many students currently employed on campus receive more than minimum wage.  

Although an increase in pay may seem enticing, students expressed satisfaction with their work environments and the experience they continue to gain from them.  

Pierce Papke, a third-year illustration and honors liberal arts major, works as a library assistant and the creative intern for Office of Student Life, and explained how a few cents can add up over time. 

 “Even if it’s raised by one dollar, that’s twenty more dollars. With twenty dollars,  you can get a basket full of vegetables, which is pretty cool,” Papke said.

He also described the benefits of working on campus and expressed gratitude for the employment opportunity that the university provides students.

“I’m thankful SPU provides student employment because it’s a very community-based type of work,” said Papke.

The community-based type of work is the reason first-year research psychology graduate student Diedrah Todd began working at the SPU bookstore.

“Working on campus, I’m able to see students my own age and stay connected with the SPU community. Working off campus can feel distant,” shared Todd.

Fourth-year history major Megan Nixon works as a library supervisor. She shared her favorite parts of working on campus.  

“I’ve loved getting to know other students who work with me,” explained Nixon. “I get to hear about their interests and classes. It builds a really cool peer network that I’m very thankful for.”  

Nixon, Todd, and Papke were unsure of how the minimum wage increase would change their pay, if at all. Since they are paid above the minimum wage, all expressed that not seeing an increase seems reasonable.  

“Pay raises are a little tricky with student worker positions because they’re very limited by nature. Most positions cap hours at 20 hours per week,” shared Nixon. “For a lot of departments, they can only offer limited hours as it is.”  

In Papke’s years working on campus, he has only known one student who exceeded the 20 recommended hours for students to work. This student worked 30 hours off campus to pay for his schooling, which is not reflective of Papke’s experience on campus.

“I work just for the work experience and having a little bit of spending money. I am not working these jobs to get a living wage. It would be impossible,” said Papke. “As a student worker, there’s little hope of climbing up the promotional ladder – you don’t plan on staying long term.”  

Nixon’s experience is evidence of what long-term working could look like for students. She has worked at the library since her first year at SPU. She began as a library assistant and received a promotion to library supervisor.  

“Some departments have supervisory positions that students can work up to,” said Nixon. “In my experience, this is less common, especially with turnover being so high since most positions terminate when students graduate.”  

For these students, working at SPU seems to be more about the work experience and less about the pay. Papke described this type of climate.

“The main thing that characterizes student worker jobs at SPU is a transitory sort of position that, although it doesn’t last, provides work experience and an environment where you get to work alongside your friends and classmates,” Papke said.