Debra Mahar’s letter to the Banner on Jan. 13 got me thinking about how I was able to go to college and how that might be related to the minimum wage. First, I must explain how I got a college degree. My father quit school in the 9th grade and my mother quit in the 8th. I’m not sure what my father did but my mother got a job in a factory as a seamstress at age 13. That, plus my dismal high school record, did not make me a candidate for college. I was one of the kids that my guidance counselor took on a field trip to the local factory. He also told me, because I was tall, that I would make a good pole climber for the telephone company. All I could think of was all those splinters I would encounter if I fell. And besides, I had had enough of school. I was joining the navy and off to see the world. This was 1957, the height of the Cold War and they would take almost anyone (not so today). After four years in the Navy, I smartened up and after some low-paying jobs upon discharge (they didn’t call it minimum wage then), I decided college wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
However, by that time I was married with a baby. I was lucky as those were different times and college was within reach of almost anyone who wanted to go.
Under the GI Bill, I got $125 a month plus $75 for my wife and $25 for the baby. That may not sound like much, but my tuition was only $500 a year. This was at a major university (Rutgers in New Jersey). Also, I got a $10,000 national defense loan which I did not have to repay until after graduation, of which 10 percent a year was forgiven if I became a teacher -- which I did and after 10 years the whole loan was forgiven. Thus, I graduated with no debt. That, plus my wife, to whom I am deeply indebted, working full-time and my working summer jobs allowed me to go to college without any financial worries; and though we drove a junk car, and had a tiny apartment, those were good years. If any one of those support factors weren’t there, I would not have gone to college. I had already passed all the exams and a physical to be a New York City cop. It was just a matter of signing up. I was also thinking about being New York City fireman. It was good money for someone without a college education.
That was then, this is now. I don’t see how anyone today would have all that support that I had. No one today would be able to do what I did then.
Which brings up the minimum wage. What if the minimum wage was on a scale like the GI Bill? Someone in high school working part-time would receive the base pay. Someone older or married or with children would receive more based on a scale like the GI Bill. You can probably think of a hundred reasons why that would not work. I can think of a few myself. For instance, employers would not hire anyone married with kids. But we don’t know that. Employers know that someone with kids is going to be more responsible than someone just looking for some extra money.
Well, maybe it’s not good idea but it is something to think about. I see people working for minumum wage and they are working as hard as anyone. Harder than a lot of people making more money.
I must say two more things:
Number 1: My mother wanted me to go college. Though not having an education herself, she saw its value. She wanted me to wear a tie to work. To her that was a sign of success.
Number 2: I would have made a lousy New York City cop.
P.S. You can see I didn’t major in English.
RONALD VAN ORDEN