By Jacob Schmidt Before you make any assumptions about me, yes I did vote for Bernie Sanders, but this article is not about economics. Rather, I want to speak to the Christian imperative to do more than what is asked, to go the extra mile. I don’t want a living wage, I don’t want to bankrupt Whitworth, and I am not merely in this for myself. I simply wish for a symbolic gesture by which my school might honor its Christian identity. I think Whitworth should raise student wages.
For those who clamor for a hike in wages to that rhetorically powerful $15 per hour, I support your efforts, but do not wish to express them here. The source of the magic $15 number is the desire for working families to be able to earn a living wage. This is a noble goal, but not one which pertains so much to students directly, as few among us work full time or support a family - all praise and honor be unto those that do. In fact, there are government support services in place for students who work even 20 hours per week, so the question of a living wage is at least more complicated when it comes to student workers. For a more in depth look at the economic nuances of student wages, I would encourage readers to check out a recent article in Fortune magazine. While I believe that a $15 minimum wage ought to be considered for all, I will leave this debate to be settled in the political arena.
What I want from Whitworth need not be $15 per hour for my work as a tour guide, climbing wall attendant and shuttle driver. All I ask is to not be paid minimum wage. Were the minimum wage $11 or $12 or even $17 I would still be asking for this as a Christian gesture. It is at the very heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition that we are called to do more than what is asked of us by governing authorities. Take the practice of tithing for example, God calls upon His people to give, not of their left-overs, but of their first-fruits (Lev. 27:30, Prov. 3:9, Gen. 28:22). This practice encourages Christians to prioritize giving over all else, not to do only what is required of them. The notion of above-and-beyond giving is made even more clear in the New Testament as Jesus says that, “if anyone forces you to go with him one mile, go with him two miles” (Matt. 5:41 ESV). Many biblical historians believe that this verse refers to a practice by which soldiers would have a civilian carry their bags for a mile. What we have in Jesus’ words is a direct commandment to do more than what the representatives of the government have insisted that you do. This message is reiterated by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7 ESV). It seems that paying your workers the minimum wage is a case of giving under compulsion.
These biblical examples make it clear that Whitworth ought to be paying student workers and other minimum wage campus employees greater than what the government mandates. Even if this was a mere $.25 per hour raise, the gesture would be felt. This modest raise may have some repercussions for Whitworth in terms of the number of student worker hours, requiring some areas such as the U-rec to employ fewer workers. To this I reply that Whitworth would better sell itself as an institution which cares about its student workers by hiring fewer of them at a decent wage than hiring large numbers of minimum wage workers for a couple of hours a week.