Prior to college, part-time jobs tend not to be an absolute necessity for many students. In fact, volunteer work, extracurriculars and academic competitions are often strongly emphasized as ways for high schoolers to make themselves more competitive for college admission. Yet, as many current college students have long since realized, financial security is imperative for a successful future career. Despite financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz’s criticism of how the nation’s average student loan debt is $35,000 and insistence that student loans should not exceed the student’s starting salary after graduation, the reality for college students is that part-time jobs are a necessity. Since, according to a 2015 Consumer Expenditures report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, daily necessities and insurance add to roughly $15,000 to $20,000 or more (depending on the categories added up), and $50,651 was the average starting salary for 2015 college graduates, college graduates’ take-home pay most likely is a meager $10,000 to $15,000, depending on their actual expenses. Given these factors, college students must work while in school in order to try and mitigate this anticipated high financial strain after graduation. Yet college students are oftentimes ill-prepared for the nuanced politics of part-time jobs.
Considering that 50.4 percent of minimum-wage workers are aged between 16 and 24 years old, and that 70 percent of college students work while in college, students often take up jobs in the service and retail industries because of how simple the job requirements are. These positions are typically split between part-time and full-time contracts. Most are rarely, if ever, salaried positions; they seem to be hourly jobs in general. Students are thus disadvantaged because salaried positions are generally more stable and have more protections, such as a guaranteed yearly wage, instead of on a fluctuating hourly wage. Overtime policy is also different for salaried and hourly jobs: Salaried employees get time and a half for overtime (work done beyond the maximum 40 hours per week), while contract employees merely get the regular rate of pay.
Furthermore, contract employees are not always guaranteed to get things like health insurance or overtime benefits, like salaried employees might. Contract employees are cheaper too because if employers have over 50 full-time employees, they are required by law to provide benefits like insurance. Otherwise, if there are fewer than 50 full-time employees, contract employees merely get their minimum wage pay — no matter the amount of hours or time they spent with that company. As a result of this, students who work while in college oftentimes build up job experience in the retail and sales industry, which is not always necessarily in line with what their actual degree is. This essentially defeats the purpose of jobs preparing students for their future careers since those skills are commonly gained ones, not the specialized skills that a college degree is supposed to give a student.
It is exactly this unclear work status that causes students working as contract employees for retail and service industries to openly ignore when borderline labor violations happen to them. One main complaint seems to be how their bosses always change their hours suddenly, like scheduling them for a shift without prior notice. Students often fear bringing up issues with such actions, perhaps out of fear of angering their boss. Thus, they never report probable common labor law violations such as denial of overtime pay or rest or meal periods. Yet, according to the California labor law, students — as any employee in general — are protected from retaliation by their bosses for reporting potential labor law violations. I myself did not even realize that, for the most part, California is an at-will employment state, wherein both employees and employers essentially can quit and fire at any time without a two weeks’ notice (unless the contract has that requirement listed). Of course, the typical protections for factors such as race, pregnancy and gender identification still apply for restricting a boss from firing employees on a discriminatory basis.
As a result of this emphasis on making education almost unattainable, America’s future workforce — today’s college students — are quite unprepared and have a depressing cultural practice of joking about their literal poverty because of student loans. Instead of prioritizing education, a shocking 70 percent of college students stress out over finances. In fact, as a direct result of America’s emphasis on making students carry the financial burden for their education, America’s youth lag far behind many European countries in terms of their overall education. A college education seems almost impractical to obtain because American society specifically does not invest in it, unlike how Germany has made their colleges virtually free for its students.