Summer wage cuts were not made with student employees in mind

Students take jobs at GW over the summer for a multitude of reasons – but for a while, many were likely drawn to them as a way to get free housing and make D.C. minimum wage. For those students, a summer in the District may have just fallen out of reach.

Last week, officials confirmed that some student workers would no longer receive an hourly wage of $11.50 – the D.C. minimum wage. Instead, student employees in the GW Housing office will receive the federal hourly minimum wage of $7.25, while those working for Visitor Information Program summer tours will receive $8.50. Budget cuts have affected departments across campus, as each administrative unit has to cut 3 to 5 percent of their total budgets each year until 2021. But this specific cut will affect some students’ ability to both work at GW and have enough money for food and transportation in the District.

While this editorial board understands why this decision was made, it’s unfortunate that officials in the housing and admissions offices chose to cut student employees’ wages. Understandably, getting free housing is significant compensation, but the cost of living in Foggy Bottom is one of the highest in the country. The D.C. minimum wage is barely enough to live on when you have to pay for food and transportation. Slashing hourly wages by more than $4 will make it hard for student employees to live in D.C., even when housing is paid for.

Students affected by the wage change are working limited hours for a non-competitive hourly wage. These pay cuts – coupled with the expensive standard of living in D.C. and the inflexible hours of these summer positions – may make students question whether it’s worth staying here when they could go back go home and save money on housing and food. In the future, officials should cut from other areas that don’t directly affect some students’ livelihoods.

Some students work at GW over the summer because they want to experience what D.C. is like without classes and other responsibilities they have during the school year, while others are taking summer classes to get ahead on their degrees. And there are some students who can’t go home over the summer break because of family situations. Students rely on GW jobs and free housing to make the summer months affordable, and GW relies on students to fill these jobs because it’s likely they’d have to pay non-students a more competitive wage. By cutting wages in even a few offices, the University might risk students not wanting to apply for these positions.

Living in D.C. is expensive. While student workers receive free housing, which is one of the largest expenses students have to worry about on a day-to-day basis, compensation doesn’t cover a meal plan. Since GW doesn’t have an operating dining hall or affordable food options on campus over the summer, student employees will have to make do with Whole Foods and other pricey vendors in the area. And expenses don’t stop with food. If you want to enjoy your summer in District by going to brunch or a few Washington Nationals games, you need spending money. Even if you find free events to attend, transportation costs quickly add up.

The summer jobs in the housing and admissions offices may be part-time, but the hours students work may not provide the flexibility for them to work another job. Most jobs and internships won’t want to hire someone who can’t dedicate themselves on the days an employer wants them to work.

We understand that the University needs to be fiscally cautious. And it’s good that departments across the board are not necessarily cutting student wages. Students who are looking to work for GW over the summer should try and find departments that aren’t making this pay cut, and try to find part-time hours that let them work a second job or take an internship. It makes sense that officials are trying to spend less money, but this pay cut is a budget shock to students who had worked for the housing or admissions offices in the past and planned on doing so again. It would be more beneficial for the University to look to cut in other areas, rather than lowering student workers’ quality of life.

We don’t know how many students will be affected by this change – but officials should have thought twice before cutting something as major as the wages of students who want to work for them.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Melissa Holzberg and contributing opinions editor Irene Ly, based on discussions with managing director Eva Palmer, homepage editor Tyler Loveless, contributing sports editor Matt Cullen and copy editor Melissa Schapiro.

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