Boise State University struggles with inflation in a tight labor market

Taya Thornton | The Arbiter

With the economy still recovering from a global pandemic that affected the lives of over a million Americans, people are adjusting to what it means to make a living wage.

In 2021, over 47 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs in what economists call “The Great Resignation,” according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Universities worldwide are struggling to keep up through this unprecedented job market, including Boise State University.

One of the challenges facing the university is its ability to reach and retain student employees as it fails to keep up with the higher wages offered by outside employers. 

“It should come as no surprise that we’re facing the same problem attracting and retaining employees as any other organization right now,” said Martin Orr, professor of sociology and director of labor studies at Boise State. “For some students, working on campus has a lot of advantages. But if there are a lot of entry level positions starting at $15 an hour and offer benefits and even signing bonuses, ultimately you have to compete with that.”

In the public sector, the decision to raise spending on payroll as a whole is a political process that takes time to play out, according to Orr. The wages in the public sector seem to lag behind the private sector, especially in states like Idaho where public employees can’t negotiate contracts. 

[Photo of Starbucks, located inside the Student Union Building.]
Taya Thornton | The Arbiter

Because the university is not paying enough, it cannot successfully keep up in a tight labor market. 

“The labor market is said to be ‘tight’ when vacant jobs are plentiful and available workers are scarce,” according to David Andolfatto and Serdar Birinci of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

The university acknowledges that workers are scarce according to Grace Solderblom, a senior nursing major at Boise State and former on-campus Starbucks employee. However, the want for student employees to keep their Boise State job rather than upgrade off campus is becoming a norm. 

The U.S. labor market during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic was tighter than traditional measures indicate. The researchers’ estimate of firm-side unemployment predicts wage growth better than the unemployment rate, as written by Stephen Miller for the Society of Human Resource Management.

This wage growth due to the rise of inflation is beneficial for student workers, yet comes at a cost for employers and universities. Boise State was forced to maximize wages, yet outside employers are still able to provide more. 

Not only is it difficult for the university to keep up with outside employers, but it is also struggling with upholding equal wages among student employees. 

“I stopped working at Starbucks on campus because I was asked to do too much and not paid enough. I was promoted to being a trainer and got a 25-cent increase from $9.50 to $9.75, making no tips,” Soderblom said. “This came with a lot more responsibility and was only given to me because I was considered a ‘veteran worker’ after just three months in an attempt to keep me on their staff.”

Soderblom said that new hires are currently being paid $14 an hour while veteran employees are still making the base she made at $9.75. 

Third-year political science major Molly Regan mentioned that students have mentioned being paid $8 an hour while other people could work off campus and make up to $15 made working at Boise State unrealistic and exploitative. 

Boise State University is not matching outside employers’ pay; subsequently they are losing student employers as they are not content or motivated to be a part of the job force on campus.

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