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July 28, 2014 8:31 AM   Subscribe

Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, Rep. Tim Ryan (OH), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL), and Rep. Barbara Lee (CA) are among those have been participating in the Live the Wage Challenge, posting on social media about their experiences. The Challenge (pdf) "asks elected officials, community leaders, advocates and anyone concerned about the growing inequality in this country to walk in the shoes of a minimum wage worker by living on a minimum wage budget for one week. That’s just $77."
posted by roomthreeseventeen (96 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm pretty sure that publicity stunts are explicitly exempted from conferring credit for "walking in their shoes."
posted by clockzero at 8:40 AM on July 28 [6 favorites]


This kind of thing has been going on back to the early 70s (and probably much before that). The wealthy and well-to-do have some kind of experience to see how the less fortunate live.

I recall Welfare Dinners back in the 70s where the wealthy would meet at someone's house and have white beans with mustard greens, white bread, and lots of stuff from those gigantic Number 10 cans....

Not sure what this kind of thing does for anyone...'cept maybe as a "See? I'm sensitive and I know what it's like" credibility gambit....
posted by CrowGoat at 8:40 AM on July 28


If anybody else was confused about where that $77 figure came from:
Someone who works full time on the minimum wage earns only $290 a week — after housing costs and taxes, that breaks down to just $77 a week to spend on food and transportation.
posted by notyou at 8:41 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


It’s un-American that you can work and work and work and not get out of poverty.

I wish I lived in an America where this was generally believed, rather than the usual "the poor do it to themselves with their bad choices."

Maybe all elected officials should have to do this, say, one week a month. Pundits should have to do it four weeks a month.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:41 AM on July 28 [13 favorites]


However, this is a hugely important issue and it should be addressed seriously through legislation, not exclusively through play-acting, which has a mixed record at best in improving anyone's life in any way.
posted by clockzero at 8:42 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


For one week? Sheesh, that's not the challenge. They already have resources stacked up from not having to live on that wage up until that week.

The real challenge would be living on it for 3 months. The first month or two they would eat through their previously acquired resources. It's the third month where they would truly see what a challenge it is to try to balance food, rent, and fuel costs let alone actually do anything else other than work and watch television (probably over-the-air, because who can afford cable on minimum wage?)
posted by hippybear at 8:42 AM on July 28 [39 favorites]


Not sure what this kind of thing does for anyone...'cept maybe as a "See? I'm sensitive and I know what it's like" credibility gambit....

I don't know, with the advent of social media where your representative can use Facebook to reach voters, it might change some people's perceptions about the reality.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:42 AM on July 28 [5 favorites]


with the advent of social media where your representative can use Facebook to reach voters, it might change some people's perceptions about the reality.

As well as the perceptions of the representatives themselves.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:43 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


We haven't done this challenge specifically but in the course of budgeting have done 7-12 day stretches where there's literally $50 or $100 (or $12, one time) to spend. It's challenging. Days feel longer, and if anything goes wrong it becomes a big logistical challenge to avoid hitting zero.

I think it's a good exercise because it helps people who consider themselves responsible spenders to realize how much less is possible to spend and still get by, and also how challenging it is to do consistently without building up a stack of unresolved long-term problems.
posted by michaelh at 8:45 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


the "play acting" and "this doesn't do anything" criticisms are silly - it's extremely clear from the Live the Wage campaign link that the idea here is awareness that the minimum wage hasn't been raised in five years and an effort to push for change on that front.
posted by sweetkid at 8:45 AM on July 28 [5 favorites]


Those are worthy goals; however it's not obvious to me why politicians should be the ones raising awareness instead of making it happen with the much more powerful tools of institutional access to decision-making power. So I agree with the stated goal but am unconvinced about why this is a sensible way to achieve it.
posted by clockzero at 8:51 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


This is one way to do it. It is not the only way and it's not the only thing these pols will do. They - like the rest of us who are not politicians - are generally able to do more than one thing at a time.
posted by rtha at 8:55 AM on July 28 [9 favorites]


If I was Ryan, I'd be starting out every post with "Unlike that other guy named Ryan..."
posted by zombieflanders at 8:57 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


The real challenge would be living on it for 3 months.

Plus a random week where they have to pay $200 from their $77 a week budget.
posted by Foosnark at 8:57 AM on July 28 [55 favorites]


Is attempting to live on $77 for one week an adequate simulation of someone who faces that struggle every week, indefinitely, with possibly no hope for an improved situation? No, of course not, no more so than holding your breath under water for one minute is an adequate simulation of what it's like to be a fish.

On the other hand, feebly trying to show empathy beats not even attempting to show empathy any day of the week. So, bravo for the feeble attempt. More please.
posted by tempestuoso at 8:57 AM on July 28 [21 favorites]


But there are already millions of Americans who aren't politicians living in poverty. Why should the politicians' experience of living on poverty-level monetary resources accrue some importance lacking in those Americans' lives? It just seems like a feel-good gesture that ellides the moral import of the lives of people who cannot choose otherwise. And, again, I'm all for the ultimate goal here, I just cannot see what this has to do with it.
posted by clockzero at 9:04 AM on July 28


it's not obvious to me why politicians should be the ones raising awareness instead of making it happen with the much more powerful tools of institutional access to decision-making power.

I imagine the fact that there are other politicians who are themselves unaware of the need for such a change, as well as there being voters who could potentially vote against such an action if it were put up to a referendum, would be a determining factor.

...I mean, what do you think they are, magicians? Getting elected into office doesn't mean you automatically get, like, a magic wand and can just go "Fiscalum!" and magically make a law happen. You're in the same room with a bunch of other yutzes, a lot of whom disagree with you, and you have to change a lot of their minds first before you can get the laws passed you want passed. And they're working just as hard to change your mind.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:04 AM on July 28 [13 favorites]


Wait... this is just for food and transportation, for one person? It would kind of suck but it doesn't sound that difficult at all. Monthly it'd be $334 - ($77*52)/12

10 mi each way to work, 30 mpg car, national avg $3.5/gal = ~$16/week for gas

$61/week for just food? Totally doable if you don't eat out. Again, not fun, and I do think the minimum wage should be raised, but I don't think this challenge is really that tough at all.
posted by desjardins at 9:09 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


A lot of people don't know that servers STILL only make $2.53 an hour. A lot of people have no idea how many jobs are actually minimum wage jobs. They think if you went to school and got a degree then you can make money. They don't know that someone who went to school to become a CNA only make $7/hr. It doesn't compute in their head. They think a CNA would make almost as much as a nurse and aren't nurses paid a lot?

I think a lot more awareness of what jobs actually pay would be good for people to know. It's suprising how little a lot of jobs pay.

It's not only "the minimum wage is incredibly low" but also "sure this job pays 10% above minimum wage, but did you know that means they still only make this much?"
posted by sio42 at 9:10 AM on July 28 [12 favorites]


desjardins - you didn't factor in the gas cost of going to the grocery store. or going to anywhere else other than work.

i have a very fuel efficient car and if i still had my old commute of 13 miiles each way (not to mention the fun idling in horrible rush hour traffic) plus a weekly trip to the grocery store, i'd be at least $20/week.

if i wanted to go to farmer's market and the grocery store, or if i had dr appt (therapist or regular doc), there's that too.

plus parking costs.
posted by sio42 at 9:13 AM on July 28


I hope this effort is successful.
posted by clockzero at 9:14 AM on July 28


From the PDF: This is the budget you have to cover a week’s worth of your meals, groceries, transportation, and recreational spending.

Recreational spending, especially if you are a parent, is a big expense.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:16 AM on July 28


sio42, what I like is measuring student loans to get a better job against how much extra that job pays over minimum wage. So, CNA getting $200/mo in loans to make $2 over minimum wage would be ~$200/$320 or an extra net $120 a month. (Sorry, I'm making up these numbers.)

Using this model, some fields have massive negatives and things like trades or computer science end up looking quite attractive. Of course, it doesn't consider the benefits of an education over a lifetime (or a lot of other things), but it does provide some insight into how good nominally "good" jobs actually are sometimes.
posted by michaelh at 9:16 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


They don't know that someone who went to school to become a CNA only make $7/hr.

Considering the average CNA makes 30k a year, a CNA who makes $7 an hour would be an anomaly. And I don't know why anyone would think that a nursing assistant makes as much as a nurse.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:17 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Okay, sio42, let's say 200 miles/week. My math was wrong up there.

200 miles a week at 30 mpg = 6.66 gal/gas per week = ~$24 at national average of $3.5/gal

$53/week for food - still totally doable. For one week! That wouldn't even be uncomfortable if you knew you were going back to your usual living standard.

I agree with the poster above that this needs to be a 3 month effort to be a good approximation. Wait til your car breaks down ($150) or your pet is sick ($100) or you have a surprise ER visit (even with insurance, it was $100).
posted by desjardins at 9:17 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


I hope this effort is successful.

It's already raised enough notice to get people talking about it, including you - so....success, by at least one measure.
posted by rtha at 9:18 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


$54/week for food - still totally doable.

Really? I don't know. I live in Manhattan, and I spend roughly $54 a day, maybe a little more, if I'm paying for DH and I (no kids) to eat.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:19 AM on July 28


Plus a random week where they have to pay $200 from their $77 a week budget.

...and they have to get the difference from a paycheck advance storefront, so for the next 45 weeks, they only have a $65 a week budget.
posted by Mooski at 9:19 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


I definitely could spend $50/day if I wanted to but if I knew I had to watch my budget, I could eat on $8/day (I know because I'm doing it now). No, I'm not in Manhattan but I'd be surprised if food costs were 5x as much.
posted by desjardins at 9:21 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


The $77 a week assumes you're paying $176.38 a week for housing, which is incredibly low for areas like NYC, so what sounds doable in some parts of the country might be impossible in others.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:21 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


I could eat on $8 a day, but it wouldn't be healthy.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:22 AM on July 28


$54/week for food - still totally doable.

How about $54 a week for food AND toiletries AND a percentage of your housing AND transportation AND a percentage of your utilities AND whatever it takes to do your laundry?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:22 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Also, you need to factor in insurance costs, eventual replacement costs, etc -- a car costs more than just the gas you use in one week.

$54/week for food and clothing and entertainment is no big deal for one week. It's not pleasant or hugely healthy, but it's easy enough. It would be a big deal over the course of a larger amount of time, because they were using up medicine they had already, wearing clothing they didn't need to replace, and so on.
posted by jeather at 9:23 AM on July 28


"Someone who works full time on the minimum wage earns only $290 a week — after housing costs and taxes, that breaks down to just $77 a week to spend on food and transportation."

Let's crunch the numbers.

Minimum wage is $7.25.
x 40 hours per week = $290
$290 per week = $1160 per month.

Single minimum wage workers who work full time are in the 15% Federal tax bracket.
15% of $1160 = $174.

Social Security Tax is 6.2%
6.2% of 1160 = $71.92

Medicare Tax is 2.9%
2.9% of $1160 = 33.64

$1160 - $174 - $71.92 - $33.64 = $880.44

So $880 per month after Federal taxes. To use the states of the people listed in this FPP, Ohio, Illinois and California all have state taxes but their minimum wage is higher than the federal limit. ($7.95 for Ohio. $8.25 for Illinois, $9.00 for California). So that might even out.

But if $880 per month is what you have to live on for the month before any living expenses, and they are assuming that taxes+housing leaves you with $77 per week, then that means:

$77*4 = $308
$880 - $308 = $572 for housing and utilities.

Which might be do-able if you don't live in a major city or a state without an income tax. Maybe. Still, it's incredibly tight. If you don't mind living on a very simplified diet with no leeway for any other costs, including potential health problems.
posted by zarq at 9:25 AM on July 28 [8 favorites]


Which isn't to say it's a horrible stunt, but it's one of limited use. I wish they had done it even for a month.
posted by jeather at 9:26 AM on July 28


$54/week for food and clothing and entertainment is no big deal for one week.

That is my point. It is a big deal over the longer haul, especially if you live in a big city. I don't think this is a very good experiment for this reason.
posted by desjardins at 9:27 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


If anyone thinks they can do it, they should do it. That's the goal of the livethewage.com link. It's not just about the politicians who did it and wrote about it.

The Challenge (pdf) link that roomthreeseventeen included in the OP has a lot more info about how this works as well.
posted by sweetkid at 9:29 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Minimum wage is $7.25.
x 40 hours per week = $290
$290 per week = $1160 per month.


If you do (7.25 * 40 * 52) / 12 it comes out to $1256.66 per month. Slightly better but still shitty.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:34 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


zarq, you do have to keep in mind the existing safety nets: EITC, free heat/phone/internet programs, food assistance, link/wic, moms & babies/medicaid insurance programs, etc. Some people even live in subsidized housing or shared housing to reduce expenses. You can pretty easily arrive at a ~$75-100 weekly amount, or more, factoring in those things. I'm not saying it should be that way, but it is that way.
posted by michaelh at 9:35 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


52 weeks assuming no vacation (which is unpaid in those jobs) or sick time or family emergency.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:36 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Interesting...it appears the biggest deal for Strickland wasn't that he could do it, but that he couldn't:
Strickland, who was one of a handful of legislators who took the minimum wage so-called Live the Wage challenge last week, used his own experience to highlight hard choices, limited options, and hardships those living on minimum wage must face.

Strickland described eating macaroni and cheese, food from the McDonald’s dollar menu, bologna, peanut butter, and eggs, not because they’re particularly nutritious but because they’re affordable; he admitted being late for a meeting because it took him longer than expected to walk miles in DC’s July weather and skipping meals to save money. When he got sick early in the week, he wrote that he lucked out because he already owned the medicine to help with the symptoms, which could have busted his budget. Strickland adds that he was supporting just himself on the $77 dollars, though many families must feed multiple dependents on that same amount.

“Washington is in a bubble that keeps our representatives away from the experiences of those they actually represent,” he wrote. “I know I’ll never be able to truly walk in the shoes of a minimum wage worker, but experiencing just some of the decisions this income requires on a daily basis is enough to understand that we need to do better for these hardworking families.”
posted by zombieflanders at 9:39 AM on July 28 [47 favorites]


Strickland (and many commenters here) are correct about the bubble nature of Washington. So perhaps I was being overly rigid and Manichean when I denigrated this initiative as, superficially, ineffective and unlikely to be effective. I really do hope it works.
posted by clockzero at 9:48 AM on July 28 [7 favorites]


MisantropicPainforest, that amount is going to be too high, because it necessitates not taking a single day off during the year. You have to remember that minimum wage jobs almost certainly don't include any paid time off (including paid sick leave as well as paid vacation time). Even if people didn't want to take a day off and never had to take a day off because they were sick or had a sick child or etc etc etc, there are still holidays (such as Xmas and Thanksgiving) where the workplace is almost surely closed. And most people who make minimum wage are kept under 30hrs/wk anyway, so that they're technically part-time, and have variable schedules (which is why two jobs are often necessary) -- which also is difficult in terms of child care. Anyway, this is all a digression -- my point is, you'd want to ratchet down the estimate slightly from $7.25*40*52 because it's unlikely-to-impossible that someone would work full shifts during full weeks for every week of the year.

I think this is a good exercise for politicians or really for anyone to participate in. No, what they're doing is not really like living on minimum wage for the long term -- it's much easier. But it's still likely a learning experience for the pols to live on a strict and tight budget like that, and it's also likely a learning experience for many of the people who they talk to about it -- which is worthwhile in its own right. Exercises like this also reinforce the idea that the problems faced by poor people are about a lack of money and not some inherent moral/psychological/whatever difference.

Also, I think it's a fairly good/wholesome way for politicians to connect with their constituents. I still remember when some pols did a similar exercise fifteen or so years back, and this one politician had so much trouble coming up with ways to keep a healthy diet while sticking to his budget -- a big victory for him was figuring out that he could have a banana with peanut butter for breakfast. I loved that, seeing as I ate peanut butter-on-banana for breakfast every day for years. It's a really small thing, but politicians making an effort to connect with and live similarly to their constituents, and making an effort to keep their constituents' daily realities in mind, is a way of keeping democracy and democratic ideals strong, and so I'm usually supportive of those efforts as a general rule.
posted by rue72 at 9:52 AM on July 28 [9 favorites]


The real challenge would be living on it for 3 months

Of course, Barbara Ehrenreich did pretty much this, as honestly as she could, and it was almost more than she could take. I remain haunted by the story of her fellow worker who was essentially homeless, could not ever afford lunch and felt unable to go to the hospital after severely injuring her ankle. She couldn't afford to miss work despite the severe pain she was in.
posted by emjaybee at 9:56 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Ugh. If you're clever and have resources, you can eat very well on that budget -- my average dinner is brown rice and sauteed veggies, probably under $3, and I don't eat much else during the day. Of course I have the time and energy to go to coops and grow a kitchen garden and join a CSA and experiment a lot to figure out what works, which are mostly non-monetary resources that poor people don't have. So I think it's important to do this in an open and curious way rather than as a game to be won by the smartest eater.
posted by miyabo at 9:56 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I've got an idea...pay congress at whatever minimum wage is for their state. see what they think after a year of two of that.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:57 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


If I was Ryan, I'd be starting out every post with "Unlike that other guy named Ryan..."
Yeah, I was momentarily confused about who he was, and as a result I was half-expecting his article to include something like "At the end of the week, I realized that it was very difficult, so I decided to pull myself up by my own bootstraps and have a job as a United States Congressman. Only in America!"

All four listed politicians are Democrats. Are there any Republicans doing this?
posted by Flunkie at 9:58 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


OHenry, I've often thought we should do that, or even just the median wage. Of course, lots of them already have family money, so it wouldn't matter to those.
posted by emjaybee at 9:58 AM on July 28


Single minimum wage workers who work full time are in the 15% Federal tax bracket.
15% of $1160 = $174.


It'd be $31 per month. Standard deduction is 6200 and personal exemption is 3950, so $10,150 of income is income-tax free. Excess of 3770 is taxed at 10%, so total tax of 377 per year.

Not material, but medicare tax is 1.45%.
posted by jpe at 9:59 AM on July 28


MN legislators make only $30k. Unfortunately the result is that it's mostly people who have made a fortune elsewhere, inherited money, or have a spouse in a high paying job. Not a great solution.
posted by miyabo at 10:00 AM on July 28 [8 favorites]


Morgan Spurlock can be an insufferable little imp, but the first episode of his tv show, 30 Days, in which he and his fiance tried to live on minimum wage for 30 days, was a much better example of this kind of stunt. They faced medical issues and nearly went under from the financial strain. It's viewable on Amazon Prime and Netflix and even if you don't like Spurlock (I sure am not a fan), it's good.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:02 AM on July 28 [6 favorites]


I think a lot more awareness of what jobs actually pay would be good for people to know. It's suprising how little a lot of jobs pay.

The Washington Post ran an article over the weekend.
"Labor is scarce. As the housing crisis dragged on, the workers that builders relied on found jobs in other industries, including the energy sector. It’s been tough luring those workers back, Crowe [David Crowe, chief economist for the National Association of Homebuilders] said. Meanwhile, the workers that hung in there are aging, and the industry is having trouble attracting a younger generation."
A Labor shortage ? With unemployment at ~7% ?

I wonder how they could resolve that; it's just a mystery.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:06 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


$53/week for food - still totally doable. For one week! That wouldn't even be uncomfortable if you knew you were going back to your usual living standard.

I've lived cheap before but this would be a big pain and it would not be as easy as some people are saying. Virtually everything that I eat would need to be reworked to fit this budget, for every meal.

I get that it's an easy stunt compared to actually being poor, but compared to how an even moderately middle class person like myself consumes, it is a huge change and would take real effort to make it work.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:08 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


This is like those night in jail things. Anyone can do poverty for a week, it's camping. The difficulty is the prospect of a lifetime of poverty and how that wears you down.
posted by vapidave at 10:08 AM on July 28 [7 favorites]


OHenry, I've often thought we should do that, or even just the median wage. Of course, lots of them already have family money, so it wouldn't matter to those.

I thought that one of the reasons we paid politicians at all was so that people without family money could still afford to take those jobs. That's also why campaign finance reform is such a huge issue -- even though the salaries are apparently high enough for politics to be attractive to people who aren't rich, and even though there have been *some* efforts at campaign finance reform already, campaigns are so expensive and perpetual now that wealth is still often considered a de facto prerequisite for running for office, which is undemocratic.

Even though I agree that civil servant salaries should be tied to private sector wages (including the minimum wage), I think it's actually counterproductive to make going into politics too much of a losing proposition, money-wise. You'd basically be pricing out people who can't afford to live off private wealth for years/decades at a time, without making much of an impact on the wealthy.

So I think it's important to do this in an open and curious way rather than as a game to be won by the smartest eater.

Yes, I agree. This is an exercise for learning and empathy, not a live action RPG of Oregon Trail or something.
posted by rue72 at 10:13 AM on July 28 [8 favorites]


I'm amazed by the cynicism on display here. Ted Strickland holds no elected office, and House Democrats have all the "institutional access to decision-making power" of a potted plant. Gimmicks like this are literally the most they can do, but instead, people are nitpicking about how $77/week is actually quite a bit of money, or that it's easy to do this for a week.

Yes, that's the point. Everyone who reads about this knows that the politicians can go back to their normal lives without worrying about how they'll pay for their next meal, but by making a show of doing it for just a week, they raise awareness of the fact that many people aren't so lucky.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:16 AM on July 28 [8 favorites]


zarq, you do have to keep in mind the existing safety nets: EITC, free heat/phone/internet programs, food assistance, link/wic, moms & babies/medicaid insurance programs, etc. Some people even live in subsidized housing or shared housing to reduce expenses. You can pretty easily arrive at a ~$75-100 weekly amount, or more, factoring in those things. I'm not saying it should be that way, but it is that way.

Yes. I was referring to a single taxpayer with no dependents for simplicity's sake.

Of course, safety net programs require government subsidy and subsequent taxpayer costs. I'm all for society assisting those in need where necessary with a safety net. It's the proper thing to do. But raising the minimum wage to a more livable number could help transfer that financial obligation where (I think) it belongs: onto employers.
posted by zarq at 10:20 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Rep. Mark Takano of San Bernadino, CA is doing this too. I'm as cynical as anybody, but I think it can only be a good thing that people are talking about this. I don't believe that anybody is claiming the challenge as some kind of virtue--it only serves to open a conversation.
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:23 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I get the impression that the only politicians participating are democrats.

What a coincidence.
posted by el io at 10:23 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Sorry to be so cynical, tonycpsu. Being a student of history will do that to you.
posted by clockzero at 10:25 AM on July 28


So here's the big rub. Our representatives in elected offices are supposed to either be a real representative the majority of the people in their district or willing to believe their constituents. So that means that they need to be people who have lived lives much like those who voted for them or be willing to pay the fuck attention.

The people that live in poverty or just above the poverty line have been saying for generations, "We can't continue like this."

Every new elected official says something along the lines of, "Ooh, that is tough. We'll see what we can do." And then act as if they don't believe their constituents by continuing to support a decimation of social services and living wage proposals in favor of more and more breaks for corporations and big business.

I am offended not because this seems like a stunt, but because they couldn't just LISTEN to the experts and the people that live like this. You shouldn't have to prove over and over again that poverty is debilitating to get help. That's like denying someone medical care because they don't look sick.

Oh wait, we do that too.
posted by teleri025 at 10:27 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


> The difficulty is the prospect of a lifetime of poverty and how that wears you down.

That, and the odds of a catastrophe when living so close to the bone. The probability that one will suffer a major illness or injury (with associated medical expenses and wages lost) during one's Living the Wage Challenge period is negligible; the probability that one will do so over a lifetime of poverty is 1. There's no margin of error, and for the truly poor it's a matter of "when," not "if." (Not to mention that the compromises one makes when impoverished generally lead to worse health outcomes.)
posted by Westringia F. at 10:36 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Wow at the hate Rep. Barbara Lee is getting for putting $5 for toothpaste in her budget. One of her twitter @replies calls her "Barbie".
posted by subdee at 10:43 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I linked this in another recent thread about poverty, but it also applies here. Bill Moyers this week interviewed Arthur C. Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute.

Moyers repeatedly brings up the topic of raising worker wages. Brooks repeatedly dodges this with unsourced threats of job losses and returning to his thesis that only policies which favor economic growth will ever help the poor.

You can watch the half-hour interview here, or read the transcript. Either way, it's one of the more maddening interviews I've ever seen Moyers present.
posted by hippybear at 10:45 AM on July 28


I am offended not because this seems like a stunt, but because they couldn't just LISTEN to the experts and the people that live like this.

Dunno about the rest of them, but Barbara Lee already knows. Pretty sure that she is not doing this because she couldn't otherwise possibly imagine what it would be like, or that she hasn't already been listening to experts and her constituents, but that it's because she's doing it that other people will pay attention.
posted by rtha at 10:46 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


A Labor shortage ? With unemployment at ~7% ?

I'm reminded of the article with the factory owner who just couldn't find any goddang kids to take a factory job real shame these kids today with no work ethic. Then the paper figured out what he was paying and the kids would've been much better off working at McDonald's in much better working conditions and the mystery was solved.

I'm amazed by the cynicism on display here.

This is one of the most self-defeating (and infuriating) threads in modern liberalism, the constant willingness to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. People are at least trying to understand the issue and raise awareness? Not good enough, they should plunge their entire family into poverty for months and really understand it. It reminds me of a discussion some friends were having about how to solve low payment issues in their industry and their plan was basically "Okay, well, first we destroy international capitalism." I'm entirely sympathetic, but you may want to have an alternate and more workable if imperfect option rather than "Well it's pointless to even try if you're not instituting full communism now."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:55 AM on July 28 [12 favorites]


I've often thought we should do that, or even just the median wage.

Members of Congress obviously get more, but only a bare handful of states pay their legislators above the median family income. Too lazy to go do it again now, but last time I had to put it together,* in most states a legislator as a sole breadwinner would be well under the poverty line and it was only 3-5 states that paid over median income.

*You have to make about a baskrillion assumptions to do this, almost all of which are almost certainly wrong in at least one state. So take with lump of salt.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:00 AM on July 28


And then act as if they don't believe their constituents by continuing to support a decimation of social services and living wage proposals in favor of more and more breaks for corporations and big business.


Decimation means a reduction by 1/10th. The words you want are devastation or destruction.
posted by srboisvert at 11:11 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


This is a total moronic stunt. There have been similar stunts on passing as Black, being in jail, working a garbage truck, etc. It is silly for a simple reason, and it is not the brevity of the time "experiencing" this alternative life but the simple fact that actually living on welfare for what seems an endless time, brings despair and an emotional impact that one will not have if one knows there is an ending time not long off.

Live on minimum wage and be told you will stay on it for a long long time with no end that you will know about. Then see how it goes.
posted by Postroad at 11:14 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


"campaigns are so expensive and perpetual now that wealth is still often considered a de facto prerequisite for running for office, which is undemocratic."

Point me to a time when America wasn't ruled by the wealthy - its always been undemocratic in this sense.
posted by marienbad at 11:15 AM on July 28


People are at least trying to understand the issue and raise awareness? Not good enough, they should plunge their entire family into poverty for months and really understand it.

Or "just make the law since they're already in power".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:21 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


To the "that's not so hard" crowd: $77 per week a person for food alone is doable. $77 a person for everything after rent is another thing altogether. Working minimum wage shouldn't mean all you can afford is to eat, while praying nothing you own breaks.
posted by aspo at 11:22 AM on July 28


Decimation means a reduction by 1/10th. The words you want are devastation or destruction.

Only if you are John Dryden. Its used figuratively most of the time and that is ok.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:24 AM on July 28 [9 favorites]


Yo, every single one of the politicians mentioned in this post supports raising the minimum wage. They're not doing this so that they can say "It's totally possible, and even easy, to live on the minimum wage!" They're doing it so that they can say "It's really hard to live on the minimum wage, even for a week, which is why we should raise it." And because they're relatively prominent politicians, they have some access to media attention which helps get the latter message out.

If you support raising the minimum wage, you should focus your fire on politicians who oppose raising the minimum wage, not on those who are actively trying to raise it.
posted by burden at 11:32 AM on July 28 [20 favorites]


Comment on Tim Ryan's Facebook page that I can't tell if it is satire or not:

Minimum wage isn't meant to be lived on! That's why when the mills went down we worked 2 -3 jobs to make ends meet.
posted by misskaz at 11:38 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


I have a friend that is a small business owner. He's pretty concerned about discussions of a 50% increase in minimum wage. While he already pays his employees more than minimum wage, the impact of a min wage increase would certainly be great (in his mind).

Suddenly his above-min wage would be *at* minimum wage, meaning he'd have to raise his pay significantly if he wanted to retain his employees (who could get an easier job at the same wage).

In discussing this with him, it occurred to me that there are a couple of flaws in a national (or state) minimum wage.

The first is that it doesn't increase automatically with cost of living (inflation, that is). So instead of an small incremental wage increase each year he's faced with a potential large increase. For employees, even if we increase the min wage, if cost of living increases, employees will still be making less each year. The 2nd problem is that (also tied to cost of living) rural employees may make a living wage at minimum wage, but urban ones will be barely scraping by.

In my mind minimum wage should increase every year to deal with inflation (or perhaps decrease if there is deflation), and should be cost-adjusted to account for the cost-of-living in the cities.

With these two changes its possible that minimum wage workers could afford to live in SF (haahah, largely just kidding, but it seems like a reasonable goal), and employees wouldn't have to wait years until the legislature had the political will to increase it.

Automatic increases are even more important when we have a congress that is obstructionist.

In my mind 'raise the minimum wage' is always going to be a stop-gap solution until we have a minimum wage that acurately reflects the cost to survive and isn't dependent on politicians of the day to increase it.

My small-business owner friend that is panicked at a potential 50% increase in minimum wage gets behind the idea of a min wage that automatically increases by inflation and one that takes into account the cost of living in rural vs urban areas.
posted by el io at 11:53 AM on July 28


So instead of an small incremental wage increase each year he's faced with a potential large increase.

Well, yes, but that's to compensate for FIVE YEARS or more of no increase whatsoever.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:58 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


el io: Automatic increases are even more important when we have a congress that is obstructionist.

I read a theory somewhere that Democrats don't push for automatic increases because they enjoy getting credit every time they raise it. I'm not sure that's the case -- you also have to consider that, as hard as getting a one-time increase is, it's many times harder to get one that would increase automatically -- but I certainly wouldn't put it past my own team to do something that screws constituents for their own political gain.

As for urban vs. rural -- this is what state and municipal minimum wages (over and above the federal minimum) exist for. This is one case where leaving things up to the state and local governments actually makes sense, provided the national minimum is a floor that anyone living anywhere can afford to live on (which certainly isn't the case now.)
posted by tonycpsu at 12:00 PM on July 28


I have no idea if this is actually possible, but I think it'd be neat if a company's minimum wage were pegged to its maximum wage; there's really no reason that the head of a company needs to make more than, say 50 times what their lowest-paid employee makes, I don't think. Fifty times! That's crazy! That means that if a CEO wanted to make $1.25 million a year, they'd need to pay everyone else at least $25,000 a year. There'd still need to be a flat minimum, like, nothing below THIS amount, and there would have to be clear regulations for part-time and temporary employees and everything, but, although I could easily be wrong, this seems really reasonable to me. Does it really seem reasonable for the CEO to be making more than FIFTY TIMES what their employees make?
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:04 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Mrs. Pterodactyl: Does it really seem reasonable for the CEO to be making more than FIFTY TIMES what their employees make?

No.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:08 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Of course, safety net programs require government subsidy and subsequent taxpayer costs. I'm all for society assisting those in need where necessary with a safety net. It's the proper thing to do. But raising the minimum wage to a more livable number could help transfer that financial obligation where (I think) it belongs: onto employers.

A good proposal would be to reduce welfare budgets/federal subsidies and increase minimum wage at the same time. If a state tried this and the numbers ended up working out, other states would be interested.
posted by michaelh at 12:34 PM on July 28


"A good proposal would be to reduce welfare budgets/federal subsidies and increase minimum wage at the same time."

Ah, so disabled/old/young/unable-to-work people will be screwed even further, just because the same number of crappy jobs they still can't do will lead to slightly slower immiseration?

Economic justice and adequate universal social safety net programs are hard problems. Even one takes the entirely nationally affordable position of a minimum standard of living, adequate medical care, and free effective education for all through job (including intellectual/tertiary education) skills training. Taking from one poor group to give a fraction to another doesn't solve a thing.
posted by Dreidl at 1:37 PM on July 28


If you felt the Challenge wasn't "true" enough, please remember: it was not intended to represent actual poverty. Reasonable people agree that no experiment will manage that. The Challenge only attempts to bridge a small portion of the cavernous gulf between the lived experience of the poor and the lived experience of everybody else. It happens to use financial budgets, but it could have tried something more representative like also limiting your time budget (to represent public transit and living in a distant, poor community far from work) or an energy budget (to simulate poor health caused by cheap, non-nutritious foods and stress associated with poverty). The team likely used money because money is simply easier for most folks to understand. If you're past that point in your advocacy, awesome! Try something more challenging, like a time or energy budget. But criticizing and dismissing the Challenge because it isn't precisely poverty sort of misses the point.
posted by Avarith at 1:37 PM on July 28


Ah, so disabled/old/young/unable-to-work people will be screwed even further, just because the same number of crappy jobs they still can't do will lead to slightly slower immiseration?

You misunderstand; it would just be that if $30BB of benefits and administration's no longer needed because people are making more money, then the budget can be reduced by, say, $25BB. Everyone else wouldn't notice the change.
posted by michaelh at 2:02 PM on July 28


It's unfortunate that it seems I never lack for relevant contexts to post this, but an acquaintance of mine produced an extremely elegant cookbook that meets the $4/day food stamp daily budget requirements as her food studies MA capstone project at NYU. Here's the free PDF under Creative Commons.

Recently she raised a significant amount of money with a now-ended Kickstarter to do a print run in order to donate copies. She's set up a storefront to allow people to continue to buy one+donate one.

New York is expensive but the book is calibrated on north-Manhattan grocery prices.
posted by whittaker at 2:37 PM on July 28 [7 favorites]


And "The real challenge would be living on it for 3 months."
And then... "Plus a random week where they have to pay $200 from their $77 a week budget."
And then, then ... "...and they have to get the difference from a paycheck advance storefront, so for the next 45 weeks, they only have a $65 a week budget."

And then then then... they have to deal with the long-term consequences of living in a moldy apartment, drinking rusty tap water, eating mercury laden tuna from a can, off-gassing cheap furniture, ...
posted by xtian at 2:42 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


If only all politicians were paid minimum wage...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 3:37 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


As a constituent and supporter, the idea that people are giving Barbara Lee grief over this pisses me off.
posted by Lexica at 7:18 PM on July 28 [5 favorites]


It's weird, and a bit scary how the debate has shifted into bad math. The notion that if you raise the minimum wage [to a level of reason, you can't pay everyone a million dollars a year] companies will have to lay off workers is really weird - for two reasons at least.

1. Those workers generate income. The people that do the work are the source of income.

2. What and Why the fuck are you as a company owner doing having extra workers?
posted by vapidave at 10:31 PM on July 28


Really disappointed this is getting the No True Scotsman treatment. Of course nothing is like poverty except actual poverty. Sure, these Congressmen and -women get six-figure salaries* and, apart from the downtrodden Sean Duffy, are pretty comfortable most of the time. They've got housing and transportation figured out; they've got a job at least till January. So this isn't anything like actual poverty.

Part of the point, though, is to get discussion started, and to maybe get someone who thinks they have it all figured out to try the challenge themselves.

* Which I'm in favor of. Congress is full of millionaires as it is; I don't want to make having personal wealth a job requirement. That's part of the fucking problem.

Look, if there's a cheap stunt you want to rip on, try Paul Ryan's deeply unrealistic proposals for overhauling our poverty assistance programs. The claim is that by bundling eight or more programs into a block grant that states can then manage how they like is that we have an example of them doing that to a number of assistance programs in the 1980s, then steadily whittling away at the budget, since the programs were then competing against each other. Given that every previous proposal Ryan has mooted has included massive cuts to social programs, and clear consensus of rhetoric across his party, there is little doubt that a similar fate would be in the offing once this change took place. Of course, removing money from social programs will then have the miraculous effect of creating jobs for everyone who wants them, so we won't need them as much -- or so Ryan seems to actually think.

Piling on these guys who -- and I can only speak for Schakowsky (many years ago my State Representative), but suspect it's true of the others -- have been working on and committed to these issues for a very long time just seems to be killing the messenger. God almighty. No wonder we have problems making headway on this issue.
posted by dhartung at 10:33 PM on July 28 [5 favorites]


dhartung: The claim is that by bundling eight or more programs into a block grant that states can then manage how they like is that we have an example of them doing that to a number of assistance programs in the 1980s, then steadily whittling away at the budget, since the programs were then competing against each other.

Yeah, pretty much:
Of these 11, eight shrank significantly in real terms (the dollar values are adjusted for inflation), from -18 percent to -87 percent since inception, and from -12 percent to -58 percent since 2001. Two block grants expanded, also significantly, but the general pattern has been to shrink. The average real decline since 2001 has been -23 percent (and that’s just inflation-adjusted; adjusting for population growth would lead to larger losses).

As Kogan writes:
Block grants’ very structure makes them vulnerable to cuts..[they] generally give state and local governments more flexibility in how to use funds, leading to varied approaches for achieving program goals. But this variety makes it hard to see how changes in funding levels affect beneficiaries, or even to be sure how the money is being used. That, in turn, makes it easier for policymakers looking for savings to target block grants rather than other benefit programs for long-term freezes or cuts.
And then there's Ryan's plan for beneficiaries be forced to check in with "life coaches":
Byond the obvious problem with this -- when in recent years have elected Republicans ever agreed to spend more money now on any program in order to spend less money later? -- there's the question of those "smart, dedicated caseworkers." I agree with New York magazine's Annie Lowrey: requiring the poor to sit down with these caseworkers and work out specific benchmarks before they can receive aid is (to use her word) paternalistic. In practice, though, it would be cut-rate paternalism, because we'd never bother to ensure that we had "smart, dedicated" paternalists as caseworkers.

As Lowrey notes, under the Ryan plan, these caseworkers would be employed by several different types of organizations:
Ryan proposes asking poor families to work with a single "provider" -- a government agency or approved nonprofit or for-profit group -- to build and enact a life plan, in exchange for cash assistance.
So some of these caseworkers will work for the government, others for nonprofits, still others for profit-making corporations. How's that going to work out?

Well, we can imagine what's going to happen in government programs: states aren't going to provide enough money to hire the number of caseworkers they'll need, because that's what always happens with the budgeting of government social service agencies. Each caseworker will have a huge caseload.

I do like this counter-proposal, though:
... my counter-proposal to Ryan is that we all go back to Eisenhower-level tax rates on the rich. If you would like your tax rates lowered to Reagan-level rates then you have to work with a life coach and meet the commitments of a contract you create together. A lower tax rate will be granted based on: 1. The amount of people you create jobs for that pay a living wage, 2. The amount of earnings you keep in the country and pay taxes on, 3. That you don't take any other subsidies or tax breaks from the government (state or federal), 4. Your personal and business endeavors maintain an environmental impact below an agreed-upon limit.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:05 AM on July 29 [5 favorites]


Morgan Spurlock can be an insufferable little imp, but the first episode of his tv show, 30 Days, in which he and his fiance tried to live on minimum wage for 30 days, was a much better example of this kind of stunt. They faced medical issues and nearly went under from the financial strain. It's viewable on Amazon Prime and Netflix and even if you don't like Spurlock (I sure am not a fan), it's good.

I remember watching that almost, god, like 7-8 years ago, and remembering that one of Spurlock's most poignant lines near the end was "what's even more startling about this is that we have so many advantages here and we're still barely making it. We have each other, we have no kids, we're not sick, we're young, we're white."

The line always stuck out for me because it would be so easy to see that as a very cynical or unfair statement, but then you can take a look at any of the comments on some of the articles about this.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:25 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]


If only all politicians were paid minimum wage...

That sounds great as a throwaway, but if you think about it for about thirty seconds, it's a godawful idea. You'd put desperately ambitious people in positions of power that came with minimal income? You don't see a problem there? The only people who'd agree to serve as politicians would be: people so rich already that income meant nothing to them; people so crooked they'd just abuse their power to line their pockets in other ways; and people so idealistic that it'd be tragic watching them too overwhelmed with trying to pay rent and eat to ever try to get anything accomplished.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:52 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Now, if politician salary increases were indexed to increases in the minimum wage.
posted by jeather at 9:53 AM on July 29


Decimation means a reduction by 1/10th. The words you want are devastation or destruction.

Only if you are John Dryden. Its used figuratively most of the time and that is ok.


I'm familiar with figurative use thanks. However, the specific amount is part of this damn word! Using it figuratively for things greater than a one tenth reduction is actively innacurate rather than figurative looseness. It's like arguing for using tenfold figuratively to mean anything between 5 and 15 fold.
posted by srboisvert at 12:37 PM on July 29


editor hat on/

Look, it's colloquial usage and it's fine in a context like this (why? because people understood the meaning!). If you are being paid to edit, then you can correct it; if the mefi style guide demands the original usage, then flag it for pb to fix. Otherwise, for your own sanity, let. it. go.

/editor hat off
posted by rtha at 1:05 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


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