Editors Note: The following article, by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), originally ran as an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times on August 4, 2014. Read the original post here.
This past week my husband and I took the Live the Wage challenge in solidarity with hard-working families who are trying to make ends meet on a minimum wage salary. Our allotment was $77 each for the week to cover all food, transportation and other expenses excluding housing, insurance, and support for dependent children (which I don’t have). It didn’t take us long to realize that $7.25 an hour is not enough to live on. We didn’t quite make it.
To anyone who thinks this challenge is just a gimmick, I say “Try it.”
You will probably learn firsthand what I learned:
- It takes meticulous planning and discipline to live on the minimum wage and still we went over by $4.47, despite the many advantages we have over a poverty wage couple. For the week, we became hyper-sensitive to the cost of everything.
- All spontaneity is out the window. Feel like a buying a cup of coffee? Forget it. Those pretzels in the vending machine look tempting? Keep walking. They’re not in the budget.
- There is no margin for error. You can’t afford to get sick, miss a day of work or buy medication. You’re in real trouble if you blow a tire, and don’t forget your lunch at home
- I learned the value of a dollar — it can buy a can of tuna or baked beans or a box of pasta. Fresh fruits and vegetables and meat are much harder to afford. We stretched a package of romaine and a few tomatoes to last the week.
- You can forget a night at the movies, going out to dinner, or inviting friends for a meal. Three of our friends actually had to bring their own Thai carry-out to our apartment while we ate a much more modest meal on the budget, an awkward arrangement most people would not choose.
- A car is expensive. Driving 140 miles round trip to my granddaughter’s birthday party took a big chunk of the budget, and we didn’t need to count car insurance or maintenance.
- Pets are luxury. Our family dog Lucky is disabled and his needs quite expensive.
- We didn’t have enough money to pick up our dry cleaning, nor could we do our laundry in the coin operated washer and dryer in our DC apartment building.
This was just a week, but we got a small taste of how hard — how impossible — it is to survive on $7.25. The minimum wage for “tip” workers, those who supposedly reach at least $7.25 per hour through tips, is an astounding $2.13 per hour, a rate that hasn’t been raised for 20 years!
Heather from Chicago is a real life 365 days-a-year minimum wage worker and she says, “Increasing the minimum wage would provide just another bit of relief — I wouldn’t constantly worry if I can afford to go to the doctor or buy food for the week.”
Heather and millions of other workers desperately need and deserve a raise and should not have to wait any longer.