Economy, Fall 2017 Articles, Politics, Social Issues

Students’ Opinions on Minimum Wage Varies

The U.S. federal minimum wage has been a point of dispute ever since its inception. It has drawn criticism from economists, legislators, policymakers, and waged workers alike. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, Congress initially, in 1938, set the federal minimum wage at $0.25 an hour. Lawmakers have since raised the minimum wage to account for rising economic costs and living standards. In recent years, Congress has raised the minimum wage in $0.70 increments over the course of three years–gradually increasing the standard from $5.15 per hour in 2006 to $7.25 per hour in 2009.

The federal minimum wage has since remained unchanged despite rising cost-of-living standards. Critics argue the current minimum wage (i.e. at $7.25/hr), when adjusted for inflation is worth less than years prior.  For example, the federal minimum wage in 1968 of $1.60/hr would have been worth nearly $11/hr relative to today’s dollars. This concern has lead some to advocate for a federal minimum wage adjustment increased to meet today’s living costs.

To better understand student body opinions on this issue, in the spring of 2017 Pack Poll asked students whether they favored or opposed raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.  Of the respondents, only 30% of students favored the increase to $15, which is peculiar especially when considering Pew Research’s polls showing surveyed millennials closer to 50% in favor.

This deviation in those favoring an increase in federal minimum wage could be attributed to a few different factors. First, Pew Research’s survey sample consisted of individuals 18-29 years-old. On the other hand, the significant majority of Pack Poll’s respondents are 18-21 years-old.  Second, contrary to the Pack Poll survey, Pew Research omitted the response choice “Unsure”. It is possible that the inclusion of this response choice decreased the percentage of those in favor.

This semester, members of Pack Poll changed the initial survey design hoping to gain further insight on the relatively low percentage of the student body favoring a minimum wage increase.  Respondents were broken into three random groups, each of which were presented a varying version of the initial question.

The first group (Group A) served as a control and received the same, identical survey question.  The second group (Group B) received a similar question, but asked about an incremental increase in the minimum wage to $15/hr. Lastly, the third group (Group C) was asked about a lower minimum wage increase to $12/hr.

As expected, Group A, who were asked the identical question from the last survey, showed strikingly similar results in percentage of those who favor, oppose, or are unsure about an minimum wage increase to $15 an hour. Group B had marginally more support, with 36%. Similarly, while opposition to Group B’s question went down 36% (as compared to 44%), this too does not indicate a significant shift in opinion in those opposed to raising the minimum wage. Finally, the unsure category went from 23% to 27%. This shift could be indicative of respondents shifting from opposed to unsure with the inclusion of the word ‘incrementally.’

The last third of our respondents, Group C, were asked about raising the minimum wage to $12 instead of $15. This last question seemed to be what significantly changed responses. Support and opposition flipped from the original question. 45% of respondents favored increasing the minimum wage to $12, and only 30% opposed.

In addition to the varied questions choices, respondents from all groups were asked what the minimum wage should be as an open-ended question. Based off of the numerical responses, $10 was the most frequent response. This finding is congruent with the results from Group C participants–who were asked if they’d favor a smaller increase in minimum wage to $12 an hour.

As a whole, these results continued the trend from the survey initial findings from Spring 2017. While support for a proposed minimum wage increase hovered between 33 – 45% depending on the question variant, the significant majority of respondents remained unsure or in opposition of an increase, contrary to figures from national polls.

While the findings from Pew Research indicate that the majority of surveyed millennials favor an increase in minimum wage, current sentiment among N.C. State undergraduate is hardly definite. Students remain largely varied on the issue, with neither those supporting or opposing representing a majority.

A Toplines report for all survey questions, and results, is available here: Big Poll Fall 2017 Toplines

NOTE ON METHODOLOGY: This semesters’ “Big Poll” took place October 23-27, 2017. The survey was administered over the internet to a random sample of 4,500 NCSU undergraduates and 871 completed the survey, generating a 19.4% response rate. Assuming a 50-50 division in opinion calculated at a 95 percent confidence level, the margin of sampling error for this survey is +/-3.25% when questions were answered by the full sample; sampling error increases for estimates when three or more choices were offered, when fewer respondents were asked a version of a question, or when analyzing the opinions of sub-groups, such as when looking just at how females responded to a question.

In addition to sampling error, other forms of non-sampling error occur in surveys, such as confusion about question wording or the order of questions, and non-response bias (low response rates), but these types of error are not precisely quantifiable. We do not apply post-stratification sample weights for the slight demographic imbalance in gender because weighting the data would not have noticeable effects on the results.

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