Santa Cruz’s current minimum wage is $15.50.

That’s $11.94 short of the minimum amount needed to cover living expenses for a resident of the country’s second most expensive place to live

Although California’s minimum wage was raised 50 cents to $15.50 as of Jan. 21, it is still far from enough to support anyone, let alone a student.

With a reported 6.4 percent inflation rate as of January 2023, the cost of living in Santa Cruz increased, but the minimum wage remained stagnant. According to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, a single adult with zero children must make at least $27.44 an hour and work full time to support living in Santa Cruz

Both the City of Santa Cruz and UCSC pay employees the minimum wage required by the state, without adjustment nor acknowledgment of the city’s high cost of living. 

How can the UCSC administration expect their students to be enrolled full-time and meet their basic needs on a $15.50 salary? 

For a student to retain financial aid, they must be enrolled in at least twelve credits. However, students are expected to enroll full-time, taking fifteen credits or more. One five-credit class is equivalent to about fifteen hours a week. This translates to students dedicating 36 to 60 hours per week to academic labor. 

Full-time employment in California is 40 hours per week. 

UCSC’s community rentals page samples 100 listings of households offering single rooms. The cost of these rooms ranges from $1,552 to $3,545. Even at the lower end of that bracket, students would have to work at least 25 hours a week to afford a room. That would be on top of a 36- to 60-hour academic load. 

Even amidst a worsening housing crisis that impacts local and student populations alike, Santa Cruz officials haven’t followed cues from fellow UC cities, Berkeley and Los Angeles, which have minimum wages of $16.99 and $16.04 respectively.

Since 2018, and then in 2020 with the wildcat strikes, graduate students have pushed administration to acknowledge the real costs of studying, working, and living in Santa Cruz. Students continue to speak out against low wages and unfair labor practices from the University. In winter 2022, thousands of UC graduate students went on strike to establish a cost of living adjustment. 

Although graduate students have worked to increase wages in the university setting, the issue of a $15.50 minimum wage pervades the lives of undergraduates and local residents. 

The city blames the campus and the campus blames the city for the sky-high cost of living that student residents must endure every day. A sustainable Santa Cruz needs a higher floor on wages, so that the bare minimum is (barely) enough.