SALARIES / JUL. 24, 2014
version 4, draft 4

Survivor America: Living on Minimum Wage

Survivor show
Survivor Show

Living on a minimum wage seems like a season of Survivor. You will be competing or participating in a variety of tasks. However, if you choose to participate, you will be asked to win the game of life, which is not a game for many struggling Americans.

First you will have to cut the weekend partying, shopping sprees, and hair coloring, styling or cutting appointments. During the weekdays, you can forget about stopping at Starbucks for your cup of frosty caramel macchiato, captain crunch Frappuccino or hot cup of dirty chai every morning. You will also not be trying that new Italian restaurant for lunch either, because brown bagging will become mandatory not optional. The days of sporting those new designer suits with the matching shoes and brief case to work also will become a thing of the past. What you can look forward to is asking your boss if you can work additional hours or you will have to start looking for a part-time job. Do you think that you could survive earning minimum wage?

Well there are millions of Americans who do live on minimum wage. This has caused a heated debate from behind the counters of restaurant chains and retail stores all the way to the halls of Congress. Those who are struggling every day to make ends meet and wage increase advocates argue that a “stronger minimum wage can help working families, businesses and our economy recover”. Those who are against the increase argue that “raising the minimum wage nationwide to $10.10 an hour could result in a loss of 500,000 jobs”.

No matter whether or not you care, oppose or support a minimum wage increase probably depends on a variety of factors, including where you are in terms of earning potential and that of your family and friends. The fact remains that Congress hasn’t done anything about the federal minimum wage since 2009 when it was increased to $7.25 an hour; but the cost of living has continued to rise rapidly without any relief. So what should we do as a nation to ensure that everyone gets a fair shake? Before you decide, perhaps you should walk in the shoes of someone who live on minimum wage.

The Challenge

At some point in our lives, most of us have worked in minimum wage jobs. However, some of us were lucky enough to do it while we still had the support of our parents, a spouse or other caregivers. And the lucky ones didn’t have to do in while caring for young children. Imagine for a moment, if you can, paying your rent, utilities, car payment and insurance, medical bills and health insurance, childcare, and credit card bills monthly on just $7.25 per hour. You also still have to buy food, and occasionally purchase shoes or clothes for your growing children. In an effort to show the difficulties of that balancing act, some Democratic politicians have agreed to take the challenge.

"Those of us engaged in this effort will be able to experience at some level what it must be like for those who live week after week, month after month, working really hard and struggling to keep their nose above the water line,” former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland recently said while announcing his participation.

Joining him to participate in the "Live the Wage Challenge" will be other politicians including Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. and Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio who have all agreed to live on $77 for seven whole days. Sponsored by the advocacy group Americans United for Change, the challenge was issued as reminder to Congress of the five-year anniversary since the last wage increase. Are you too up for the challenge?

Tackling the Issue

Some of states and larger corporations have already raised the minimum wage. But workers say while it will make life just a little bit easier, it’s still not enough to purchase life’s essentials, pay monthly bills and care for children.

“It’s still not enough to survive,” a Walgreen employee earning $10 an hour, Arline Urquhart told the Boston Globe. “A couple of dollars wouldn’t really make the biggest difference. It really wouldn’t.”

Urquhart, like many other Massachusetts workers, will get some relief with an increase from $8 to $11 since the recently state law was enacted. There also are 10 other states that enacted wage-increase legislation during their 2014 sessions, including the District of Columbia with 38 states who introduced minimum wage bills. The big news, however, was when some of the nation’s largest corporations decided to not only stand up but also to put up, including Ikea, Gap Inc., Costco, In-And-Out Burger, Shake Shack, Ben & Jerry’s, and Whole Foods. Other companies such as Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart and Baltimore, Md.-based Johns Hopkins Hospital are standing firm and have experienced recent angry protests by workers seeking an increase. Do you think that these workers have a right to complain?

Are you a survivor?

According to the Huffington Post, President Obama and other Democrats want the federal minimum wage raised from the 2009 $7.25 to $10.10 per hour, which more closely reflects today’s cost of living. On the other hand, Republicans and some larger corporations are hesitating, pointing to a loss of jobs and an increase in the cost associated with a raise, says the Huffington Post. The question remains: do you think that you could survive on minimum wage?

Taking the challenge could be interesting. If nothing else, you will be saving a couple of extra bucks. If you do decide to take it, please let us know how long you can endure being broke and living without the life’s basic necessities.

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