Could You Live on $77 a Week?

Minimum-wage advocates begin their ‘Live the Wage’ challenge five years to the day since the last federal increase.

President Obama greets a Costco bakery employee in Lanham, Maryland on January 29, 2014 before a speech promoting policies outlined in his State of the Union address, including the minimum wage.
National Journal
Jamie Lovegrove
July 24, 2014, 1 a.m.

Mark­ing the fifth an­niversary since the last fed­er­al min­im­um-wage in­crease, pro­gress­ives are set to be­gin a “Live the Wage Chal­lenge” Thursday in a con­tin­ued push for a wage boost.

A co­ali­tion of dozens of pro­gress­ive ad­vocacy and re­search groups, in­clud­ing Amer­ic­ans United for Change and the Na­tion­al Em­ploy­ment Law Pro­ject, are or­gan­iz­ing and spon­sor­ing the weeklong event, ask­ing elec­ted of­fi­cials and mem­bers of the pub­lic to spend a week on a $77 budget — the av­er­age weekly fig­ure for a min­im­um-wage work­er after taxes and hous­ing ex­penses.

The chal­lenge comes amidst con­flict­ing re­cent re­ports re­gard­ing the mac­roe­co­nom­ic im­pact of a po­ten­tial in­crease. Labor De­part­ment num­bers re­leased last week showed that the 13 states that raised their min­im­um wages at the be­gin­ning of this year are see­ing faster job growth than those that did not. That news con­tra­dicted a Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice re­port from earli­er this year, which found that a fed­er­al in­crease to $10.10 could res­ult in 500,000 few­er jobs na­tion­wide.

The min­im­um wage has been one of the most ex­tens­ively re­searched eco­nom­ic top­ics for dec­ades, but no ir­re­fut­able con­sensus has emerged about the ef­fects on un­em­ploy­ment.

Liv­ing on a $77 budget for one week hardly sim­u­lates the every­day struggles of ac­tu­al min­im­um-wage work­ers, whose deep­est con­cerns are fo­cused more on the long-term dif­fi­culties of climb­ing out of re­l­at­ive poverty. Nev­er­the­less, or­gan­izers be­lieve the short-lived ex­er­cise still of­fers a be­ne­fi­cial op­por­tun­ity.

“Ob­vi­ously we can’t rep­lic­ate that ex­act ex­per­i­ence be­cause people need to live their lives, and we’re not ask­ing any­one to de­fault on their ob­lig­a­tions or sac­ri­fice their fu­ture for this ex­er­cise. In that sense, it has its lim­it­a­tions,” said Ar­un Ivatury, the cam­paign strategist for NELP.

“On the oth­er hand, frankly, I think most people who have more com­fort­able in­comes don’t really un­der­stand what $77 a week is like, and the only way to get a sense for it is to ac­tu­ally try it for a week, un­der­stand that it’s an ex­er­cise and it’s im­per­fect, but have that lend some aware­ness about what mil­lions of people around the coun­try go through every day,” he said.

Demo­crat­ic Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Tim Ry­an, and Keith El­lis­on are lead­ing the charge in the House, with ad­di­tion­al help from Ted Strick­land, the former gov­ernor of Ohio and cur­rent pres­id­ent of the Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress Ac­tion Fund. And those pub­lic of­fi­cials par­ti­cip­at­ing in­sist that ex­per­i­ences like these are valu­able for re­lat­ing to con­stitu­ents.

“We need to try to ex­per­i­ence, at least for a week, what life is really like. We can’t do that totally, ob­vi­ously — we’d have to change our en­tire life­styles,” Strick­land said on a me­dia con­fer­ence call Monday. “But at least those of us who are en­gaged in this ef­fort will be able to ex­per­i­ence at some level what it must be like for people who live week after week and month after month work­ing really hard and just strug­gling to keep their nose above the wa­ter line.”

The ul­ti­mate long-term goal for the chal­lenge’s or­gan­izers is to pass le­gis­la­tion to raise the fed­er­al min­im­um wage from the cur­rent $7.25 to $10.10, and even­tu­ally to peg it to in­fla­tion so that the is­sue does not need reg­u­lar con­gres­sion­al ac­tion mov­ing for­ward. In March, Sen. Tom Har­kin and Rep. George Miller in­tro­duced a bill to do just that. But des­pite a couple weeks of lofty rhet­or­ic from Demo­crats, it faced the same im­possible odds in a John Boehner-con­trolled House as at­tempts in pre­vi­ous ses­sions.

But or­gan­izers say there is more to this ef­fort than just passing im­me­di­ate le­gis­la­tion.

“It’s easy to look at these things in one- or two- or three-month cycles,” Ivatury said. “I don’t think any­one in this co­ali­tion is pre­tend­ing that we’re go­ing to pass a fed­er­al min­im­um-wage in­crease by Septem­ber or Oc­to­ber. That’s not what we’re look­ing at. We un­der­stand this is a long fight, and in a long fight you need to, as of­ten as pos­sible, draw at­ten­tion to the is­sue you’re try­ing to ad­vance and the real­ity be­hind it.”

Peg­ging the wage to in­fla­tion or some oth­er in­dex has re­ceived sup­port from both sides of the aisle in the past, as Mitt Rom­ney touted such a change on the 2012 cam­paign trail. The is­sue was thorny for the former Mas­sachu­setts gov­ernor dur­ing the Re­pub­lic­an primar­ies, even­tu­ally con­vin­cing him to re­verse course. But Rom­ney and former primary op­pon­ents Rick San­tor­um and Tim Pawlenty have all re­newed calls for a min­im­um-wage hike in re­cent months. Mean­while some mem­bers of the more con­ser­vat­ive wing of the party, like Rep. Michele Bach­mann and former Rep. Ron Paul, have sug­ges­ted ab­ol­ish­ing the min­im­um wage al­to­geth­er.

Polls show strong pub­lic sup­port for a rise in the fed­er­al min­im­um wage, but ap­prov­al drops off pre­cip­it­ously with the ad­ded con­di­tion that such a change could res­ult in job losses. As a res­ult, ad­voc­ates’ toughest mis­sion is to con­vince the Amer­ic­an people not that the min­im­um wage is too low, but rather that a raise will not have ad­verse con­sequences for the broad­er eco­nomy.

“This is good for the eco­nomy. This is good for eco­nom­ic growth and eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment,” Rep. Tim Ry­an said on Monday’s con­fer­ence call. “The folks who would see an in­crease in the min­im­um wage would have more money in their pock­ets…. It ripples throughout the eco­nomy.”

The “Live the Wage Chal­lenge” echoes the strategy of pre­vi­ous cam­paigns over food stamps, which Schakowsky has par­ti­cip­ated in three times, as well as sim­il­ar ef­forts at the state level. The drives do not have a strong track re­cord of per­suad­ing polit­ic­al op­pon­ents, but they do serve a pur­pose, Ivatury says. Ad­voc­ates can later point to op­pon­ents’ un­will­ing­ness to try the chal­lenge as evid­ence that their op­pos­i­tion is based on the­ory, he ar­gues, rather than based on the harsh real­ity of life on the min­im­um wage.

Even though only a hand­ful of Demo­crat­ic law­makers have signed up for the chal­lenge so far, Ivatury says they are not the key tar­get, and he feels con­fid­ent the is­sue will not lose pri­or­ity on the party’s plat­form.

“Those Demo­crats are ac­tu­ally spon­sor­ing the bill to raise the wage, so they’ve already demon­strated their com­mit­ment,” he said. “It’s more im­port­ant that folks who don’t seem to un­der­stand ac­tu­ally try it and then make up their minds.”

After a big push on the wage in the spring, pro­gress­ives are work­ing to pre­vent a loss of mo­mentum as oth­er is­sues and ur­gent crises crowd it out on the na­tion­al stage. Ad­vocacy groups have em­ployed oth­er tac­tics in re­cent months to bring at­ten­tion to the is­sue, in­clud­ing a na­tion­al bus tour. And as law­makers pre­pare to head home for the Au­gust re­cess to face their con­stitu­ents and cam­paign for reelec­tion, or­gan­izers will be hop­ing this week’s push can bring the is­sue back in­to the na­tion­al con­ver­sa­tion.

What We're Following See More »
UTAH REPUBLICAN
Former Sen. Bob Bennett Dies at 82
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Former Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett died of pancreatic cancer on Wednesday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Bennett was defeated in a primary in 2010 by Tea Party–backed Mike Lee.

Source:
CLINTON HERSELF COULD TESTIFY LATER
Judge Approves Deposition of Clinton Aides
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, approved a joint proposal presented by Judicial Watch and the State Department to take the depositions of officials" involved in the setup and use of Hillary Clinton's private email server, "including Cheryl D. Mills, Clinton's former chief of staff, Huma Abedin, a senior adviser to Clinton, and Bryan Pagliano, a State Department employee who serviced and maintained the server." He said Clinton could be deposed later on, though that may not be necessary.

Source:
‘WORLD CLASS’ ORGANIZATION
Trump Will Not Self Fund the General Election
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump will not self-finance his general election campaign as he did the primary season, instead relying on "his expansive personal Rolodex" to create what he called a “world-class finance organization." 

Source:
STATE HAS UNTIL MONDAY TO RESPOND
DOJ: North Carolina’s CB2 Violates Civil Rights Act
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

Department of Justice officials told North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory that "the law violates the U.S. Civil Rights Act and Title IX—a finding that could jeopardize billions in federal education funding. The department gave state officials until Monday to respond 'by confirming that the State will not comply with or implement HB2.'"

Source:
GOOGLE SEARCHES SPIKE
Libertarians Getting a Second Look?
18 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
×