The minimum wage challenge, in which people try to live on just the federal minimum wage for a week, is a plea for lawmakers to experience first-hand the difficulties of living on the minimum wage.
This is especially important for members of Congress, who are seriously out of touch with the average American, to say nothing about their inability to empathize with the trials of the poor. This challenge may even be more important for Republicans, who liken the minimum wage to a market price, and decry any and every attempt to raise it. Of course, we can’t really expect any Republican to take this seriously enough to actually try it.
Ted Strickland, former governor of Ohio and president of the Center for American Progress, is taking this challenge, and must live on a budget of just $77 per week. He’s been living on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, small bowls of cereal, and (gag) bologna and cheese sandwiches. He told Think Progress one day that he wasn’t sure what he was going to have for supper one evening.
There are things he’s had to give up. According to Think Progress, he said:
“I was walking by a nice restaurant last night near my apartment and people were sitting outside and eating nice food and drinking. I was thinking, ‘You know what would be nice? To have a cold beer.’ But you know, I didn’t. Ordinarily I would, but if you don’t have much money there’s a lot of things you can’t do.”
He acknowledged that there are more sacrifices than simply giving up a cold beer in the evening. If he hadn’t already had some OTC cold medicines in his cabinet when he came down with a cold, he might have had to sacrifice food for those medicines, or simply suffered the full symptoms of that cold for a week, which might have rendered him unable to work.
The $77 per week that Strickland has to spend is what the typical, full-time minimum wage employee takes home after taxes and other deductions. That’s not just their food budget; that’s what they have for all their weekly expenses. Members of Congress joining Strickland in this challenge include Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), Jan Schakowski (D-IL), and Keith Ellison (D-MN).
Cleveland.com reports that Tim Ryan will, along with his wife and children, will attempt to live off of just the $154 they would bring in this week if both were working for the minimum wage. But Ryan was able to cheat a little by stocking up on things like diapers before beginning the challenge. That’s something that people who actually live on the minimum wage can’t do. A better way to do this would be similar to the Live Below the Line challenge, in which people must live on just $1.50 of food per day for five days, and are required to stay within that budget whether they have food on hand already or have to buy it.
According to Michigan Live, two state senators (Democrats, of course), are also taking the challenge. Michigan has been torn apart in recent years thanks to Republican policies there, and the state has a higher rate of unemployment and poverty than most of the rest of the U.S.
Republicans, of course, won’t want to experience this, because they likely just don’t see the need. Their bubble is a bit more insulated than that of Democrats’, as evidenced by their ongoing fight against increasing the minimum wage, along with pretty much everything else that could help poor and working Americans. It’s actually very sad that the politicians jumping on this are all Democrats. It’s something every lawmaker ought to do.
h/t Think Progress.