Lawmakers Complete ‘Live The Wage Challenge’
And Continue To Challenge Congress to Raise the Minimum Wage
Washington, D.C. – Members of Congress and thousands of paycheck fairness advocates across the country wrapped up the “Live The Wage” challenge yesterday, after working to live on a minimum wage budget for a week. On just $77, these leaders hoped to gain just a small understanding of the challenges and decisions faced by minimum wage workers every day. Earning just $7.25 an hour, the average full time minimum wage worker struggles to survive on only $77 a week after paying taxes and housing expenses. After trimming budgets, skipping meals, turning to cheap unhealthy foods, forgoing simple things that many take for granted, and walking to work because they couldn’t afford other transportation, participants said the challenge was an awakening experience to the realities over 28 million people face on a daily basis. Many ran out of money when unexpected expenses arose like needing cold medicine and having to refill the car with gas, but for all it quickly became obvious that $7.25 is simply not enough to make ends meet.
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky: "During the Live the Wage challenge it was abundantly clear that $7.25 an hour isn't enough to make ends meet. Over the last seven days, I had to make every penny count at the grocery store. The gas it took to drive to my granddaughter's birthday party took a considerable chunk of my budget. Yet, those minor inconveniences and the times I was hungry this week pale in comparison to the challenges that low wage workers are facing single every day. We must Raise The Wage for our fellow hard-working Americans."
Congressman Mark Takano: “When I signed up to take part in the Live the Wage challenge, I thought I understood the sort of hard decisions many American families face when making ends meet. But, in truth, no one who hasn't tried to get by on such a small amount of money can truly understand the challenges minimum wage earners face. When your choice of bread or pasta sauce brand can determine whether you have enough money to make it to the next payday, financial security is an unachievable dream. I went into this project knowing that at the end of my week, I'd be able to return to the life I was used to. But to families trying to get by on the minimum wage, there is no such reprieve on the horizon. We must raise the minimum wage. I believed so before, and even more fervently now.”
Congresswoman Barbara Lee: “While the challenge of living on $77 a week ends for Members of Congress, the challenges of millions of Americans have no end in sight. As someone who has personally faced these challenges, I know how vital it is for elected officials to educate the public and raise awareness about the need to raise the minimum wage and work towards a living wage. No one working full-time should live in poverty.”
Ted Strickland, Former Ohio Governor and President of CAP Action: “For all of last week, I worked hard to live on the budget of a minimum wage worker. That meant I had $77 to spend on food, transportation, activities and other personal expenses for the week. I didn’t make it. Washington is in a bubble that keeps our representatives away from the experiences of those they actually represent. We need to understand the challenges faced by Americans who are being left behind in our economy.” [Read more about Gov. Strickland’s experience here]
Kyle, a minimum wage worker from Kansas (last name withheld upon request): “When I wake up in the morning I have two thoughts. Do I have food in the house to eat? What clothes can I wear that are not threadbare? I haven't had the ability to buy new clothes in a very long time. Living on this wage means that even if I could get an interview in my current town, I wouldn't look that great in my dress up clothes. They are ill fitting and tend to almost always be a little threadbare. This is a sacrifice I have to make to survive on this wage. Places like where I work do not give out raises. Currently I try to make the food stamps that I do get last as long as possible. I'm stuck in this rut not out of incompetence or stupidity. I'm stuck here because the current job market where I live is non-existent. If I got a raise to $10.10 or more, this would finally allow me to buy some new clothes. Nothing fancy, but I would buy some new shirts and pants that fit would feel amazing. Buying some new shoes would also be high on that list. I could afford to eat healthy once again, which means my life expectancy would go up. I could lower my blood pressure by reducing the stress about bills all the time. I could even save up to buy a new vehicle that doesn't need so much maintenance. I would no longer rely on the government to eat. If I had the chance to talk to a lawmaker that is unsure about raising the minimum wage, I would tell them to get out of your expensive suits and walk in my falling apart sneakers.”
Lawmakers and organizational leaders who took part in the ‘Live the Wage Challenge’ include: U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky; U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan; U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee; U.S. Rep. Mark Takano; Linda Meric, 9to5; Robert Creamer, Americans United for Change; Kate Black, American Women; Neera Tanden, President, Center for American Progress; Katherine McFate, Center for Effective Government; Deborah Weinstein, Coalition on Human Needs; Stephanie Schriock, EMILY's List; Christine Owens, Executive Director, NELP; Dan Cantor, Working Families Party; as well as 20 Members of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus.
66 national advocacy and research organizations including Center for American Progress Action Fund, Organizing For Action, NELP, MomsRising.org, Americans United for Change, EPI’s Policy Center, SEIU, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, NCLR, NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, National Women’s Law Center, 9to5, EMILY's List, American Women, and Jobs With Justice sponsored the challenge and encouraged their members to take part and share their stories on social media.
While worker productivity is at record highs, profits are concentrated into fewer hands. CEO pay, Wall Street bonuses, and corporate profits have soared over the last five years. If the minimum wage kept pace with productivity, it would be more than $18 an hour. Instead the average minimum wage worker’s annual earnings have been stuck near $15,000, and more and more working families have slipped into poverty as the price of groceries, utilities, gas and basic necessities have climbed higher and higher due to inflation. In fact, workers have effectively lost over $6 billion since July 2009 as inflation has eroded the purchasing power of the minimum wage. As a result, family budgets are stretched to the breaking point. Nearly a quarter of all of minimum wage workers – workers that include child care providers, janitors, and nursing assistants and who are 35 years old on average-- are the primary bread winners in their family.
History has shown that raising the minimum wage is not just the right thing to do when it comes to income inequality, it is one of the most effective ways to jump start the economy, unlike slashing tax rates for billionaires and corporations that ship jobs overseas. That’s why more than 600 economists and business leaders are calling on Congress to give America a raise. Raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 would boost the wages of 28 million workers by $35 billion, generate $22 billion in economic activity, and support the creation of 85,000 new jobs. Putting more money in the pockets of minimum wage workers makes them stronger consumers, which leads to more hiring to meet a greater demand for goods and services. As an added bonus, a higher minimum wage results in less employee turnover and more productivity. That’s why businesses as large as Costco, GAP, and Ikea and as modest as Lamey-Wellehan Shoes in Auburn, Maine and Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis have already committed to pay their employees more.
Brad Woodhouse, President, Americans United for Change: “A frozen minimum wage combined with inflation is why more and more Americans are falling into poverty even while working full time. Americans agree: that is unacceptable. And yet not a single member of Congress that opposes raising the minimum wage took this opportunity to gain a little perspective on how difficult it is for these workers to stretch so few dollars and make choices between basic necessities. What are they afraid of?”
The challenge has been issued to a slew of Senators and Congressional members who have blocked action on the minimum wage bill, all of whom have remained silent, and continues to be available for anyone to take at www.LiveTheWage.com.
# # #