Guest column: My experience as a working student living on minimum wage

As a university student living on my own, I have a number of responsibilities such as paying for my living expenses and tuition fees. The Ontario Student Assistant Program (OSAP) estimates that the average student living away from home pays approximately $11,000 per year for school and living costs. In order to cover these expenses, my summer months away from school are spent working two jobs for 60 hours a week. With the minimum wage being so low, my restaurant job barely covers rent and groceries during the school year, while my summer jobs pay for tuition and books. In addition, the money that I make over the summer doesn't cover my entire year, which is why I've had to take out a student loan.

OSAP is intended to help students who need assistance with paying for tuition. One advantage of the program is that loans do not have to be paid off until after graduation. But a student's eligibility for the program is based on their parents' income. Since my parents have a higher combined income, I am not eligible for OSAP even though I pay for my own tuition. Therefore, the only way that I could pay for my education was by taking out a student loan from my bank.

Most of my income for the school year goes toward living expenses, which means I have little money left over to pay off the debt that I'm accumulating for my degree. This causes a lot of stress around budgeting while I'm trying to focus on my education and getting good grades. Obviously my hope is that, after graduation, I'll be able to pursue a career that will provide me with a living wage.

During the school year, my average day consists of doing course work, attending classes, and working at my waitressing job. My typical semester consists of five 3-hour classes and I spend roughly 40 hours per week on completing my degree. In addition to my educational responsibilities, my part-time waitressing job takes up 15-20 hours per week to pay for my living expenses. However, working in a restaurant does not always guarantee you hours. As well, because I have five classes throughout the week, I have to balance my work and class schedules so that they do not conflict with each other. If they do, I have to decide between giving away a shift and losing money, or skipping a class and missing an important lecture. Either way, I spend the vast majority of my time working on school and at my job, and that leaves almost no time for a social life during the school year.

With the minimum wage where it is now, students like me have to deal with the stress of paying off a massive debt, succeeding in school, and working to pay for living expenses with very little money. By increasing the minimum wage to a living wage of $15 dollars an hour, working students like myself would gain an estimated $9,000 of annual income. This would give me a chance to save for my school expenses during the summer, have more money for my living expenses, and pay down my debt. Indeed, the numerous struggles that come with making a poverty wage would be drastically reduced if the minimum wage was increased to a liveable amount.  

Melissa Tucker is a third-year Criminology and Criminal Justice student with a concentration in Psychology and a minor in Sociology. Her interests include reading, watching movies, and working with children.