Ted Strickland, former governor of Ohio and current president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, tried to live for one week on the minimum wage. By his own admission, he didn’t make it. In an article he wrote for Politico Magazine, he described his experiences with trying to live on just $11 per day.
Breakfast consisted of eggs and toast, lunch and dinner were macaroni and cheese, or the McDonald’s Dollar Menu. He couldn’t stop for coffee, he couldn’t have big dinners with friends, or even just at home. But food wasn’t the only challenge. The $77 he was allowed to spend, which is all a person working full time for minimum wage earns, had to cover everything after housing expenses. It had to cover food, transportation, unexpected expenses, every last thing that many of us take for granted. Even medicine for a cold.
Instead of taking a cab to a meeting that was in the opposite direction from his office, he walked, and then walked all the way back to his office, in 90-degree heat. And his budget ran out before his week was up.
He made it clear in his piece for Politico that our elected representatives do live in a bubble. He tried walking almost everywhere to avoid paying transportation costs. He tried living on a diet that was much less healthy than what he was used to, because healthy food is virtually unaffordable on the minimum wage. And still he didn’t make it.
What does that say about the Republicans who wouldn’t even take this challenge for whatever reason? Would John Boehner, or Paul Ryan (in all his great wisdom about what it’s like to be poor, and how to stop), have made it? Would their eyes have been opened? Probably not. These are people who think that the minimum wage is something that people were never supposed to be able to live on, and that the poor are poor because of some character flaw or moral failing, or their own choice.
What about the Democrats who didn’t take it? There are some Democrats who’ve been dumb enough to agree with Republicans that it isn’t easy to live on their six-figure salaries. Would they have made it? And would it have made them fight even harder for raising the minimum wage?
Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois plans to take the challenge this week, according to Washington, D.C.’s CBS affiliate. He made the announcement at a weekend event to help draw attention to a non-binding ballot question on Illinois’ November ballot about raising the state’s minimum wage from $8.25 to $10. Representative Jan Schakowski, who took the challenge at the same time as Strickland, appeared there too. This is how she’s responding to critics calling the challenge a publicity stunt:
“I say to them: ‘Try it. There’s no way that you can stop into a Starbucks, that’s for sure, or pass a vending machine and decide you want a snack. Everything needs to be planned out for the week.'”
This is something every politician needs to go through, before opposing mandatory wage increases and other ways to help the working poor. Strickland didn’t make it, and he admitted that he didn’t, instead of cheating. But he’s lucky. He can go back to his far more lucrative life; this was only for a week. It was just a taste. But a taste of reality is better than staying sealed in a bubble.
h/t Politico Magazine