YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and his wife are discussing how their family is going to live on $144 for a week.
Ryan and his wife, Andrea, are taking part in the Live the Wage Challenge, attempting to get by for a week on the amount of money a minimum wage-earner would typically have over after taking care of basic living expenses.
The challenge is aimed at calling attention to the fact that the federal minimum wage -- now $7.25 per hour -- has not increased since five years ago this Thursday, when the one-week challenge begins. Ryan and other advocates for increasing the minimum wage are seeking a $10.10 hourly rate, and are challenging congressional Republicans who oppose raising the minimum wage to join them and try living on it for a week.
Ryan, D-13 Ohio, joined former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland; U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-9 Ill.; Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans United for Change; and Heather Holstein, a low-wage worker in Chicago, on a conference call scheduled at 10:10 a.m. Monday, timed to call attention to the $10.10 hourly rate they are seeking. Participants in the challenge will post updates online (CLICK HERE).
“We’ve already started thinking about how we’re going to have to shop differently, and my wife and I already have had that conversation about what we’re going to have to buy,” Ryan said.
By his own admission, as a single man Ryan made “some really bad and poor decisions as I was trying to shop” when he took part in the Food Stamp Challenge back in 2007. “”Now with the help of my wife, I’m going to try to do a little bit better job,” he added.
A Public Policy Polling Survey commissioned by Americans United for Change released this morning indicates that few Americans believe they could support their household making the minimum wage. According to the survey, just 20% of voters believe they could support their household on the minimum wage, compared to 75% who don’t believe they would be able to. That includes 80% of Democrats, 74% of independents and 69% of Republicans.
“Americans agree it is absolutely unacceptable for someone working full time, especially for someone supporting a family and working full time, to live in poverty,” Woodhouse said.
Ryan and his wife, who is a teacher, will be living on the assumption that each makes minimum wage and will each have $77 per week left after basic living expenses.
The family of five also will have to account for the needs of a newborn. Andrea Ryan delivered a boy, Brady, just over a month ago. Because she is breastfeeding, “We have to make sure that … she has a proper diet,” Ryan said. They have also stocked up on diapers so that doesn’t come out of the funds for the week.
“We already know that the grocery list is going to not look a whole lot like the one that we normally have,” he said.
A day and a half into his challenge, Strickland was noticeably fighting a cold but declined to take pain relievers and sinus spray he had in his medicine cabinet. “The fact is I probably wouldn’t be able to afford this nasal spray, which I obviously need,” if living on a minimum-wage income, he said.
Rep. Schakowsky, who is participating with her husband, also pointed out that the minimum wage for tipped workers hasn’t increased for more than 20 years.
“It’s not just about the minimum wage workers and their families, but it is also going to make our economy better because these folks, they’re going to go out and spend that money,” she remarked.
Schakowsky noted average age of minimum-wage workers is 35, and a third of workers receiving the minimum wage are over 40. In addition, two-thirds of all workers paid the minimum wage are women and nearly three-fourths of tipped workers are women.
Ryan cited a separate report that indicated the 13 states that raised the minimum wage beginning in January added jobs at a faster pace than those that did not.
Holstein, the minimum-wage worker on the conference call, says she is struggling with hospital debt and both of her parents are on disability and unable to assist her. “I don’t think my current living situation is sustainable at all,” she remarked. A respiratory infection last week meant not only missing three days of work but having to pay for medical expenses.
In Ryan’s neighboring 6th District, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, a Republican, won’t be participating in the challenge, according to spokesman Ben Keeler.
“Bill Johnson knows what it's like to live in poverty. For most of his childhood, he and his family were dirt poor, lacking electricity and indoor plumbing much of the time,” Keeler said. “Living in poverty isn't a political issue to him, he's lived it.” He also pointed out that Johnson donated his congressional salary during the most recent federal government shutdown, which lasted 17 days, to charity.
"In 2006, Ohio voters passed a constitutional amendment that requires minimum wage increases to be tied to inflation. Currently, Ohio's minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage,” Johnson said in a statement.
“I want all Americans to be able to earn a higher wage, and that could happen if Washington would focus on removing the barriers that this administration continues to place in the path of job creators rather than mandating a one-size-fits all approach to the states," he continued.
Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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