Quick Hit Monday August 4th, 2014, 4:54pm

Guest Post: How I Failed To Live On The Minimum Wage

The following was written by U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL,9).

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:

1) 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.

2) All spontaneity is out the window. Feel like buying a cup of coffee? Forget it. Those pretzels in the vending machine look tempting? Keep walking. They’re not in the budget.

3) 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.

4) 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 lettuce and a few tomatoes to last the week.

5) 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.

6) 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.

7) Pets are luxury. Our family dog Lucky is disabled and his needs quite expensive.

8) 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 D.C. 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.”

The Fair Minimum Wage Act, HR 1010, raises the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over three years. It would give 28 million Americans a much needed raise and represents an important first step toward a “living wage” for hard-working families.

I believe that HR 1010 would pass the House of Representatives if Speaker John Boehner would allow a vote. Heather and millions of other workers desperately need and deserve a raise and should not have to wait any longer.

Image: The Live the Wage challenge made it clear that meat is unaffordable on a minimum wage budget. Courtesy of U.S. Rep. Schakowsky

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