With $30 Left to Buy Food, Ryan Responds to His Critics

NILES, Ohio -- U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, estimates that he and his family will have about $30 to live on until Wednesday he says.

As part of the Live the Wage Challenge, the Ryan family has been living on $154, the equivalent of two people -- he and his wife -- working 40 hours per week at the federal minimum wage after paying for housing and taxes. Ryan began the challenge on Thursday and will finish tomorrow.

“I don't think we're going to make it the whole way. I think we'll make it to Wednesday at some point because we're running out of toilet paper if you want the truth,” he says.

The family will mostly eat fruits and vegetables they purchased Sunday at a farmer’s market in Howland until the challenge ends, he continues.

Through Facebook posts, Ryan has kept his constituents up-to-date on the challenges of living on minimum wage. One meal, he posted, was sardines and rice crackers while his wife and children ate rice pasta with vodka sauce. Both meals cost $7, he says.

Ryan adds that in addition to understanding the economic shortcomings of living on the $7.25 minimum wage, he's also seen the nutritional impact it can have.

“In the long run, the stuff that's cheapest is highly processed and the stuff that drives up our health care costs with things like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high levels of sodium. To me, ultimately, it shows that these things are interconnected,” he explains.

While Ryan’s Facebook posts have drawn positive responses, the congressman also is being criticized.

 “You can try to simulate living in poverty, but what can NEVER be experienced in your simulation is the true stress and panic of 'What am I going to do?' when you run out of the money in your budget before the week or month is up,” one commenter said on the first day of the challenge.

Posted another, “I get what you are trying to accomplish -- but to be honest with you, I find it insulting. I was raised in poverty, Section 8 housing and government cheese. Spending a few weeks on minimum wage will teach you nothing -- except how to [be] inconvenienced for a few weeks. Because, at the end of the time you will go back to living as you did before.”

In an email to The Business Journal, James Isabella, president of Computer Applications Co. in Boardman, called Ryan’s minimum wage challenge “a joke. … This is a stunt and he knows it. If he really wanted to prove the point, he should refuse to accept all of his wages and benefits over minimum wage for a year. Have him apply for government programs. Then I would believe he truly understands what normal working people have to deal with.”

Another reader called the challenge a “hoax, symbolism with no substance. Minimum wage was never meant to be a raise-your-family wage. …His hoax with the minimum wage solves nothing. I am disappointed that the Business Journal even follows it.’

In response to his critics, Ryan says the challenge was never intended to fully simulate living at minimum wage.

“In no way, shape or form do I think this will be close with the challenges that they face. What it is doing is getting many people across the country talking about what these families have to go through,” Ryan explains. “Although we can't know all of the problems and the stress these people are under week in and week out, we can highlight some of the things they go through to try and shift policies a bit.”

Even with criticisms, participation in Live the Wage broadens the national discussion about the wage increase, something that Ryan says he's always been open to.

“The whole process is for myself and my kids and our families to gain a better understanding of what many Americans, 65,000 in my congressional district, have to go through,” Ryan comments. “I think it's appropriate for me to try to better understand what my constituents are going through. I don't apologize for that at all.”

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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