Since New Mexico increased its minimum wage from $10.50 to $11.50 with the start of the new year, many college students have felt some weight lift off of their shoulders as they attempt to navigate the financial woes of being a college student in 2022.
For Tallulah Begaye, an intercultural communications major at the University of New Mexico, the dollar increase could create positive changes in her daily life.
“I’m very dependent on my check. My parents and I have a deal: my tribe’s scholarship pays for a half, my parents pay for a fourth and I pay for a fourth (of my tuition). Then I also pay for my food and anything that I want that’s not for school,” Begaye said.
Begaye has been working at Old Navy for the past four years, and recently went from working 12 hours per week to 31 hours per week while still being a full-time college student.
UNM student and business major Bree Peterson said the minimum wage increase has already been a great change for her.
“I think that a dollar goes a long way. But If I'm only able to work three hours a day, that’s still an extra dollar an hour,” Peterson said. “It gives a buffer zone.”
Peterson works between 25-30 hours per week at Neko Neko, Albuquerque's first Japanese Taiyaki dessert shop, and is also a full-time student.
“School is my first priority and, that being said, if I start giving away shifts, start calling in to do school, then I can’t make that money and what am I supposed to do when the car payment comes up, or a phone payment or I get another bill from UNM?” Peterson said.
Begaye said working a minimum-wage job not affiliated with her degree is a choice she must make to pay her bills. While building degree-related experience would be helpful, many related internships are often unpaid.
“You know, jobs want experience and internships but the experience is not paying my bills so I don’t mind working minimum wage,” Begaye said.
Michael Felix, a computer engineering major at UNM, feels that the minimum wage increase could open up more free time and, ultimately, allow for him to take unpaid internships and jobs that offer career-based experience that he wouldn’t have been able to work before.
“It makes it a lot harder trying to find a job after graduation if you don’t really have too much work experience or no work experience at all,” Felix said.
Begaye said keeping her financial and personal independence is one of her biggest worries — she feels that she needs to maintain a heavy work schedule while taking 15 college credits to retain that independence. But all of it doesn’t come without hurting her mental and physical health.
“If I didn’t have a job, I wouldn’t be able to support myself and I would have to move back home, and that is terrifying,” Begaye said. “If I move back home, I don’t know how sustainable that would be for me mentally, emotionally, even physically.”
Begaye has felt relief with the minimum wage increase and looks forward to a less exhausting future.
“Maybe I can afford more food or have more trips because I’ll have the gas money. Or maybe even I can afford to work fewer hours so I can focus more on school,” Begaye said.
Annya Loya is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @annyaloya