- Bowdoin College is raising its minimum wage for benefits-eligible hourly workers from $15.50 to $17 an hour at the end of August — 10 months ahead of schedule of a planned increase.
- The Maine liberal arts college says it's hoping the change will help combat worker shortages on campus and reward employees who have stayed with the institution throughout the pandemic.
- About 330 hourly employees who work at Bowdoin are benefits eligible, meaning they work 20 hours or more per week. Nearly all will receive increased paychecks because of the new minimum wage and other compensation adjustments it triggers.
Bowdoin announced a series of compensation increases in October 2019, when the college's minimum wage was $12.65 an hour. The college raised that rate to $14 last year and $15.50 last month. The hike to $17 was originally planned for next July.
"This accelerated timetable for increasing Bowdoin's minimum hiring rate to $17 reflects the rapidly changing labor conditions in Maine and Bowdoin's commitment to remaining a leader in wages and benefits," Matt Orlando, the college's senior vice president for finance and administration, said in a statement.
Like companies nationwide, Bowdoin says it's having trouble attracting workers. Although lawmakers and economists have been debating the underlying causes of the labor shortage, some posit that employees are weighing the health risks of working during the pandemic against wage returns.
Maine's unemployment rate was 4.9% in July 2021, according to state data, a little lower than the nation's level of 5.4%.
The yearslong progressive campaign to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour has been gaining attention against this backdrop. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., proposed an amendment to the March coronavirus relief package that would have raised the wage floor to that level, but some Democrats and all Republicans in the Senate shot it down.
Even so, companies and colleges alike are raising wages to that benchmark. Earlier this month, Morgan State University, a historically Black university in Maryland, adopted a $15-an-hour minimum wage and upgraded contract employees to full-time status with benefits. Nearby Johns Hopkins University also recently raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour in a move that impacted nearly 5,000 workers.
The increases have sometimes come on the heels of lengthy union battles for higher wages. That was the case at the University of Memphis, which raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour earlier this year.
A union at U of Memphis said raising the wage floor would help improve gender and racial equity, noting that women and Black workers disproportionately earned less than $15 an hour, Inside Higher Ed reported.