State Lawmakers Will Try to Live Off of the Minimum Wage for a Week

Written by Bryce Covert

Five state lawmakers in Minnesota have decided to take on the “Minimum Wage Challenge” and live off of a typical budget for a worker who makes the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

The state has one of the lowest minimum wages in the country at $6.15 an hour, which means it gets trumped by the federal wage. A worker who puts in 40 hours a week at that level will earn just $290 before taxes. The challenge limits the lawmakers to $5 a day for food and $9 for transportation.

Rep. Frank Hornstein (D) told CBS Minnesota that it made him take more notice of his costs. “An orange juice was $1.79. That’s not something that I would normally notice,” he said after getting breakfast from McDonald’s Dollar Menu. “Making the decision to take the bus today versus taking the car will save me a little money for dinner. For food,” he added.

Another lawmaker who lives far from the capitol, Rep. Shannon Savick (D), said, “I can live on what they set for food. I don’t eat a lot,” but she worried about transportation. Where she lives, “if you don’t have a car, you don’t go anywhere, because there is no public transportation. Driving will cost more than what they’re allowing me.” The other three participants are Democratic Reps. Karen Clark, John Lesch, Jason Metsa.

The challenge highlights how difficult it can be to live off of the minimum wage. It isn’t enough to keep a parent who works full time, year round out of poverty, even though in the 1960s it could keep a family of three above the poverty line. It isn’t enough to afford rent in any state in the country.

It’s also meant to help build momentum for legislation that would raise the state’s wage to $9.50 an hour. The legislature is expected to take it up after it returns on February 25, and Rep. Ryan Winkler, who authored the bill, said the goal is to pass it within the first two weeks of the session.

The state is just one of many that is home to a fight to raise the wage. Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C. have either legislative efforts or ballot initiatives to raise their wages, with the greatest number pushing for $10.10 an hour. That flurry of action comes while progress in Congress to raise the federal minimum wage stalls. President Obama has called on Congress to increase it to $10.10 an hour — and signed an executive order lifting federal contract workers’ wages to that level — but Republicans have opposed it.

Walking in someone else’s shoes to highlight an important issue has been used before. Three Congresspeople have spent time shadowing homeless people to better understand the challenges they face. Lawmakers have also taken the “food stamp challenge” and eaten off of a food stamp budget for a week.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

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Kim Janik
Kim Janik1 years ago

Let them try it for a year!

Angelus Silesius
Angelus Silesius1 years ago

The federal poverty level should be set at $35 k or less for a single and $60k or less for a family of 3.

Mary B.
Mary B.1 years ago

Insted of a few demacrats doing this for a week, FORCE the people who continuously opose raising wages to live on the minimum by curtailing their pay, confiscate their access to their wealth, and put them up in poor motels, make them use public transportation and let them know they will not be released untill they change their mind. And when they do finally do the right thing, pretend you don't hear them and leave them in that situation for, oh, a loooong time.Give them daily assignments to navigate the safety net so they have a real time understanding of how inadequet it is.They will of course be escorted and monitored and recorded.They work for us and untill they do their job for us, the people of the mainstreet economy, they will not be allowed to go home. Nor will any of their previous pay level be returned to them. If they can treat the people of this country so badly, then we can certainly find ways to justify treating them like this.

JL A.1 years ago

kudos to these legislators for doing their homework to vote based on facts--and thanks Bryce for including the information that the minimum wage is not enough for rent in any state in the country.

Jessica L.
.1 years ago

It's about time! They should have done this a long time ago.

jo Moss
jo Moss1 years ago

WOW, awole WEEK , wish I only had to live on it r a week instead of years.........A whole week boy o boy......what a joke.

Charlene Rush
Charlene Rush1 years ago

I hate to say, that living off minimum wage for one week, will teach them only, that they don't want to be there.
A long lasting lesson, takes a longer period of time. as if anyone didn't know this.

Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M.1 years ago

I applaud these rep's for doing this, but as has been said in many comments, 1 week is not enough, try a month and see what reality really is.

Donna F.
Donna F.1 years ago

I agree w/other commenters, that it's a great idea but should be done for longer than 1 week.

Teresa W.
Teresa W.1 years ago

great idea