Students: Raise Minimum Wage, Nix Tuition

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Photo courtesy Muhammad Ali Mojaradi/MJ

By MUHAMMAD ALI MOJARADI, Staff Reporter

“What do we want? 15! When do we want it? Now!”

“Education is a right! Fight, fight, fight, fight!,” were the rallying cries of students across the country on Thursday, Nov 12.

Members of the Social Justice League and other students from UM-Dearborn joined over 100 campuses nationwide in the Million Student March.

Students in the march had three demands: a $15 minimum wage for all campus employees, tuition-free college, and student debt forgiveness.

The march began behind the University Center, continued to the administrative building, through the UC, and into the College of Arts Sciences and Letters.

Protesters chanted and held signs. Students on Yikyak, Snapchat, and other social media platforms took notice. The hashtag #MillionStudentMarch was trending.

This comes shortly after President Obama and democratic presidential candidates former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders spoke about plans for making college affordable, and one day after New York governor Andrew Cuomo pledged to raise the minimum wage for all state workers to $15 by 2021.

In Michigan, the minimum wage currently stands at $8.15 per hour for adults.

If a person works forty hours per week, fifty weeks per year, that amounts to $16,300 in gross income.

According to MIT’s living wage calculator, the living wage for a single adult living in Wayne County is $10.04 an hour, or $20,080 per year.

“Don’t tell me that increasing minimum wage is impossible,” said Fiana Arbab, president of the Social Justice League. “Productivity in the United States has never been higher, and yet, the purchasing power for the average worker has never been lower. That simply doesn’t make any sense.”

People are often told if they want to earn a better wage, they need to get a better job. To do that, Teia McGahey said, they’re told they need to get an education.

“When an education puts most in thousands of dollars in debt, just “getting an education” is largely daunting and unrealistic for many,” McGahey said. “Going straight to work is seen as a more viable option, but these jobs often pay low-wages and do little to increase the standard of living.”

According to the Federal Reserve, Americans owe $1.3 trillion in student loans (or about $4,086 per American) which are not eligible for bankruptcy.

Several countries in Europe offer their residents tuition-free college education. In many countries, a college education is free or relatively cheap even for students from outside the European Union.

Noel Hornbacher, the director of Financial Services for UM-Dearborn said not charging tuition would create a shortfall the university just could not bridge.

“Roughly 80 percent of the revenues of the university derive from student tuition,” Hornbacher wrote in a statement to the Journal. “A scenario where current financial aid sources remained intact, a zero-tuition university would have a shortfall of about 60 percent of current revenue, or $80.5 million per year.”

The administration did not offer its response to the call to increase the minimum wage at the time this issue went to press.

“We did these same things when I was your age,” an elderly woman told the protesters. “It seems difficult, but it is achievable.”

Democratic candidate for state representative, Navy veteran, and UM-Dearborn difference maker Brian Stone also spoke.

He said the protests can draw attention, but making it happen requires legislative action. That is where he wants to help.

“It’s good that we’re fighting for these issues,” Stone said. “I believe you can achieve the $15 per hour wage just through actions like this, but when it comes to making college tuition free and eliminating student loan debt, that takes effort in Lansing and Washington. I’m proud to stand here with you today, and with your help, I hope to represent you on this issue in Lansing.”