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Minnesota Representative Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis) did something at the grocery store he had never done before.

"I had never scrutinized prices while food shopping to this extent," he said, "I even weighed two different kinds of potatoes to see where I could catch a break."

Rep. Hornstein is one of five Minnesota lawmakers taking the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge. Reps. Hornstein, John Lesch, Karen Clark, Metsa, and Shannon Savick are living this week as if they made $7.25 an hour, an effort to raise awareness of the minimum wage as legislators consider increasing it to $9.50 by 2015.

From grocery shopping to transportation, Rep. Hornstein is already "feeling the ‘challenge' part of the minimum wage challenge."

"I decided to take transit to the Capitol because that would allow for three extra dollars for food," he reported.

Luckily, the Minneapolis lawmaker lives and works in the same area, and has access to a robust public transit system. Rep. Shannon Savick, who hails from Wells, isn't so lucky: she has a two hour drive to work.

"The transportation budget is going to be very tight because I need to make a few drives for work that will take up nearly all of it," she told us, "These challenges really go to show just how difficult it can be for low wage workers to get by on the minimum wage alone."

With the $35 per week food budget, Rep. Savick is trying to go without. "I think I'm doing well with the food budget mostly by eating a little less and essentially skipping breakfast," adding that her lunch two days in a row consisted of "a cup of soup and some milk."

"Dinner was a bag of Ramen noodles for under $1," said Hornstein, "After one day I am realizing that living on this budget forces choices all the time."

The low-wage workers we've talked to all mention these forced choices; whether it's choosing between medicine and food or between paying the heating bill or buying diapers for their kids.

"Today's effective minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or $15,080 a year for a full-time worker, is not enough to meet basic needs—not for an individual or a family," writes John Clay of the Jobs Now Coalition. "A Minnesota family of two full-time working adults with two children, each worker must earn $14.03 per hour to cover the cost of basic needs."

 As much as they try to plan their budgets, being constantly cognizant of every cent has its limits. To stretch his food dollars, Rep. Hornstein tried breakfast at the McDonald's down the street from the Capitol. "I got a glass of orange juice with my dollar breakfast burrito which added another $1.79 to the tab," he said, "I won't make that mistake again."

by Doug Foote - Reposted from Working Minnestota

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Comment Preferences

  •  What they miss. (4+ / 0-)

     Rent!  While it is noble of them to try this experiment - they don't include all the bills that are monthly or even quarterly, during their week-long excursion.

  •  My main complaint about all these "thought (7+ / 0-)

    experiments" is that, for all their good intentions, they remain just that: temporary experiments. There is no way to convey the sheer grinding, unending, every-day-will-be-like-this feeling that comes from a lifetime of living with these "choices."  

    If you are a rat in a painful maze without an end, you might find yourself looking for an escape. Substance abuse, or even just the escape of watching too much TV that brainwashes you with endless consumerism messaging.  It's not like minimum wage workers can spend a week at the resort spa "re-charging."

    And then those same low wage workers will be blamed for drinking or using or simply being overweight or any number of other problematic lifestyle "choices."

    It's a self-feeding spiral of crushing negativity that really can't be translated into a one or two week experiment.  But at least these legislators are trying to understand.  That's better than most, I guess.  


    Somebody told me that you had a boyfriend who looked like a girlfriend that I had in February of last year.

    by koosah on Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 09:38:21 AM PST

  •  If they didn't subtract out (4+ / 0-)

    rent and utilities before they started planning their groceries it almost doesn't count.  

    Back in the day when I worked for minimum wage it was a living wage - 2 weeks of take-home pay covered my 1-bedroom bills-paid apt leaving me 2 weeks of take-home pay for gas, groceries, and everything else, including the occasional movie.  I won't say I was living high on the hog, but I got 3 squares that included some protein, a minimum of 3 servings of veggies and 1 serving of fruit per day.  When was "back in the day"?  1967 - 1974.  Just about the time that a current $10.10 minimum wage would equal.  (This was Houston and then Austin, TX.)

  •  we absolutely did (5+ / 0-)

    factor in rent, utilities, and transportation costs into this budget, which is how we arrived at the estimate of $35/week for food.

    We made the budget in consultation with the Jobs Now Coalition, a Minnesota-based think tank.

    In subsequent blog posts, we'll go into further detail about the Reps' struggles with housing, transportation, and other costs.

    Check it out:

    •  As someone above mentioned (5+ / 0-)

      what these thought experiments miss is the constant day to day grind and the toll worrying about tomorrow takes on you.  You're one bill from complete bankruptcy and homelessness.  If you have a car you are one alternator away form starving.  If you get sick you're one hospital visit from bankruptcy.  You're always looking over your back and constantly worrying about everything.  It takes a huge toll.  

      Wages are only part of the solution.  Minimum wages have to be increased and frankly should be increased to $15 an hour (maybe staggering it out over the next decade).  But it shouldn't end there.  Basic healthcare, dental care, eye care  all should be provided in a Medicare type system with costs deducted from our taxes.  Free universal pre-K and basic child care should also be part of our social contract.  Hell free schooling should be provided from pre-k through college as far as I'm concerned.  If we really wanted to grow as a society we would value higher education more than we do the military.  But that's another discussion.  This one revolves around basic necessities and providing them for our citizens so that they do not lack any of them.  If we provide our citizens with a decent living wage, basic healthcare and childcare our society would see incredible gains in productivity, in health, in the economy, in savings and investments by the average family.  Our economy and our country would prosper and grow.          

      This is your world These are your people You can live for yourself today Or help build tomorrow for everyone -8.75, -8.00

      by DisNoir36 on Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 10:29:00 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Too bad there is no way to instill the FEAR they (0+ / 0-)

    would be feeling if really living on a minimum wage.

    Great, they see it is hard to budget.

    I want them to know that sinking feeling when the car doesn't start.

    I want them to feel the panic when a child falls and is bleeding from a head wound - and there's no insurance, or no money for the co-pay.

    I want them to know that heart stopping moment their child brings home a permission slip for a field trip - and they have to say no because there's no money.

    I want then to be counting slices of bread.

    Go to McDonald's for a breakfast burrito? More likely they would have to do without breakfast - and probably lunch, too.

    Then they would know.

    "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

    by Most Awesome Nana on Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 12:16:13 PM PST

  •  The first step is trying to understand. (0+ / 0-)

    While such experiments cannot bring into consciousness all that poverty entails, they can begin the process of understanding the weight that poverty carries.  To this day I remember the feeling of coming home from school and racing to the refrigerator, only to find a single carton of milk.  I would pick it up, and if I could tell from the weight of it that it only had enough milk for my sister's afternoon bottle, I would put it back and shut the door.  That was more than 50 years ago, with two hardworking parents with full time jobs.  I give the legislators kudos for trying to live, for however short a time, on a minimum wage budget.  Maybe that will help them imagine what I remember.

    “The aim of mankind should be to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”--Edith Hamilton (1867-1963)

    by cinepost on Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 01:10:19 PM PST

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