What happened when three politicians tried living on minimum wage for a week
WASHINGTON (ABC News) - Have you ever seen a congressman snacking on a measly tin of sardines? Or maybe a governor ordering a McChicken off the dollar menu?
In Washington over the past week that scene was reality for three Democratic politicians who are taking the Live the Wage challenge.
Reps. Tim Ryan and Jan Schakowsky joined former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in taking the challenge–and are each living on a budget of $77 for the week–the same amount that a minimum wage worker typically has to spend on food, transportation and day-to-day expenses–after factoring out major costs such as rent and utilities.
A $77-a-week budget certainly doesn’t allow for luxuries.
“I basically had a couple bags of peanuts in the cloakroom–and there was a little fruit in the office that I ate yesterday,” Ryan told ABC News. “I spent about seven bucks last night on a couple cans of sardines and a bag of crackers from the convenience store up the street.”
The congressman began the “Live the Wage” challenge last week with hopes of bringing attention to the hardships facing minimum wage workers around the nation.
Schakowsky added, “It totally changes your perspective. Even the shopping experience–I make a shopping list when I go to the store usually. I think about what I need–what I want–and I put it in the cart. I truthfully rarely think about how much it costs.”
“I’ll walk down the aisle and I’ll see something–you know, that would be great and I throw it in the cart. There’s just none of that when you’re on that kind of budget. There’s no spontaneity whatsoever,” Schakowsky explained.
Strickland even took a trip to McDonald’s to try out the fast food chain’s dollar menu. Strickland posted a photograph of his $2.20 meal on Twitter noting that the workers at McDonald’s–(a company known for paying the legal minimum)–”deserve a raise.”
In a Politico op-ed, Strickland explained that he was unable to complete the week-long challenge with a budget of just $77. One particularly difficult aspect the governor discussed was eating a healthy diet while living on a $7.25 hourly wage.
“Because fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to find at a price within a minimum wage budget, I turned to bread, peanut butter, bananas and bologna more than anything else. That was what I could find when I took this budget to the grocery story last Sunday. And that’s why I ate lunch from the McDonald’s dollar menu.”
Schakowsky and Ryan have also taken to social media in recent days to share their message about the challenges facing minimum wage workers.
“There are a lot of people out there who do this for extended periods of time–years–so the idea is to get the message out and raise awareness about some of the difficulties that can happen to you,” Ryan told ABC News.
“We realize it’s not going to be exactly like the challenges that a minimum wage family faces, but the country is talking about the minimum wage right now. And I think that’s exactly what we want to do.”
Schakowsky echoed Rep. Ryan’s sentiments.
“I’m not going to pretend that now I understand what it’s like to live on the minimum wage. I think it’s a taste of it. But for anyone who thinks it’s a gimmick, my suggestion would be–try it,” Schakowsky said.
“You will get a small sense of what it’s like to be constantly thinking about how much you’re spending.”
Ryan and Schakowsky were co-sponsors of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013. Their goal is to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10.
The push to increase the national minimum has steadily intensified in the past year–as the minimum wage has remained unchanged since 2009.
Last week marked the five-year anniversary since Congress last passed an increase to the national minimum, while the wage for tipped workers has remained at $2.13 an hour since 1991.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the minimum wage doesn’t get you very far. “On average, a single-parent household (One parent, at least one child under 18) will spend $5,457 per year on food, or about $105 per week.”
That’s $28 above what a minimum wage worker has to live on for a week.
When asked about plans for reintroducing minimum wage legislation, Schakowsky was optimistic, but expressed concerns over whether Speaker of the House John Boehner would bring the bill to a vote.
“We’re hoping that we’re going to see another vote on it in the Senate and that there will be more pressure,” Schakowsky said.
“I fully believe that if Speaker Boehner were to call an increase on the minimum wage–that it would pass. It’s a matter of making sure that we just get more Republicans over this recess to ask the speaker to just call the bill.”
Ryan, however, was not as optimistic about the bill’s prospects before the midterm elections.
“I doubt it. The speaker’s holding the line on this. And I hope it’s a rallying call for the 65,000 minimum wage workers in my district–and the million and a half across the country,” Ryan said.
“Let’s increase the minimum wage and get people to work and make sure work pays. That’s ultimately the conversation we want to have.”