A student opens their wallet to find it is empty, superimposed over a calendar displaying pay day coming after their rent is due. Illustration by Míceal Munroe-Allsup.

Work Study Students Deserve Frequent Pay

I work two hours a week in the art department and am currently the Website and Social Media Manager for the Pioneer Log. Two hours a week in the art department, at $12 per hour, earns me $96 over one pay cycle. As Social Media and Website Manager, I am paid $500 over the semester, which works out to roughly $125 per pay cycle. Overall, before any taxes are taken out, that is about $221 per pay cycle (slightly more if I have written articles for the Pioneer Log), which makes my semesterly total fall short of the $2,800 I am awarded in federal work study. Although working for the Pioneer Log does not count as work study, I am still mentioning it because I receive compensation for the work I complete.

Posting the photos, stories and social media content to the Pioneer Log website takes, at its longest, seven hours every two weeks. That includes editing photos down to meet WordPress size standards, troubleshooting website issues, answering emails and moderating comments left on articles already posted. These seven hours come out of the time I have to do homework or any leisure activities. I enjoy it, but I cannot help but feel it would be more worthwhile if I were paid weekly and not monthly. This is one of the things I can do before graduating that will make me a marketable hire in 2020, but right now it is one of the things that makes me grind my teeth at night.

My family is below the federal poverty level and has been for most of my life. As I am sitting down to write this, my checking account barely has $40 in it. Being paid monthly means that I have to make $221 stretch across four weeks of groceries, four weeks of credit card payments and four weeks of any emergency costs like replacing school supplies or repairing my laptop and phone. My family cannot pay them for me, because they cannot afford to. By the end of a pay cycle, I am right back where I started: $40.

Then again, my frustration with the system really is not about how much I am paid. It has more to do with the way the system is structured. Monthly pay is not enough for students to adequately sustain ourselves, especially if we are otherwise impoverished. If the federal system for work study were more concerned with the rapidly changing cost of college — at LC or any other college — this would not be an issue. While the LC work study pay cycle is not dictated by federal guidelines, there should be a system that is uniform across the board, in a way that is beneficial to both student and establishment. A federal system mandating weekly pay would make it not only possible to close the gap between what my college education is costing me and my cost of living, but make it achievable. At its inception, that is what federal work study is meant to do. However, as it stands, federal work study does not make it possible to even tend to our actual jobs as students. There has to be a better way.

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