Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
A few days ago, the University System Board of Regents voted to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour for union-represented hourly employees. As a candidate for Prince George’s County Council in District 3, I applaud the victory our unions achieved through the power of collective bargaining. Still, I am disheartened by the fact this recommendation excludes student workers and independent contractors from this negotiation.
Marylanders are proud advocates of the power of unions, and in 2019, we triumphed in the Fight For $15. The Maryland General Assembly passed laws to push the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, and specific counties such as Prince George’s County and Howard County are taking steps to ensure fair wages for all.
Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University, and the University of Baltimore embraced the will of Marylanders by increasing their employees’ wages. Our educational institutions mold the minds of some of our most talented young people, so we need them to stand up for bold, inclusive policies. The University of Maryland is a foundational block of Prince George’s County. I am calling on the University System of Maryland to include all students in their pay increases in a similar manner to Johns Hopkins University.
The COVID-19 pandemic elucidated the socioeconomic struggles college students face every day. The commercialization of our college system ensures that young people are paying extraordinarily high rates to attend a four-year college. Despite attending a college in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, about nine percent of college students in the U.S. are homeless, and 36 percent face food insecurity. Tuition and boarding fees continue to rise while our young people are forced to work multiple low-wage jobs or go hungry.
The income disparity is even more pronounced for students of color. Low-income students are more likely to be from Black and Latinx communities and tend to work longer hours than their high-income peers. Over the last 30 years, student debt among Black students in the U.S. increased sevenfold, but median income only increased by seven percent. Black students attend college at higher rates than ever before, but they graduate with less economic benefits than 30 years ago.
Importantly, studies consistently show a lack of adequate income increases stress on college students and negatively impacts their mental health. Since economic hardship is a cause for mental health crises, the University System of Maryland increasing the minimum wage could decrease stress, anxiety and depression among students.
Ultimately, the leadership at the University System of Maryland can transform the lives of its employees and students. The University System of Maryland is a pivotal player in the state. It can set an example to businesses and universities across the state by paying students a fair wage. By ensuring students are adequately compensated, it can allow them to think boldly about transforming our society instead of worrying about putting food on the table.
Eve T. Shuman is a Democratic candidate for Prince George’s County Council’s District 3. She can be reached at Eve@Eve4District3.com.