by Sera June
Response to Congressman Tim Ryan's sad attempt at the Live the Wage Challenge.
|I recently read an article about a US Congressman named Tim Ryan, who completed what he
called the "live the wage challenge". Mr. Ryan set out to understand what it feels like for so many
of the people living in his country who are trying to survive on a minimum wage too low.
As a Canadian reading this article, I was angry. I can only imagine the people in your country,
who have to stand by as you mock them, were furious. How dare you make a joke of something
that so many people are struggling with on a daily basis? Your intentions going into this
‘challenge’ as you refer to it, may have been positive, however, you have made yourself out to
look like an ignorant, over paid, rich congressman.
Let’s start with the fact that you began this challenge in a very comfortable home, I assume?
Were you living in a pristine, safe, wealthy neighborhood? You have failed in understanding what
the people who actually live in poverty in your country are surviving through. You did not have to
sleep in a dirty, tiny space and hope that you were safe and warm at night, did you? Did you tuck
your family nice and cozy into sheets that most likely total a minimum wage workers bi-weekly
salary? I hope the temperature in your large home was comfortable as you drifted to sleep with
your new found ‘financial stress’ in your mind.
How about the fact that you only ‘lived’ on minimum wage for a week? How can you claim to be
understanding what someone else is living, when you are not even experiencing their life for more
than a minute? How many times did you worry about paying your rent during that week? Or was
your mortgage conveniently not due until the challenge was over? When you worried about
feeding your ‘family of five’ for a full week, were your cupboards stripped to the basics? Or were
you able to nibble here and there on expensive treats that just happened to be laying around in
your house, and didn’t ‘cost’ anything this week so therefore were fair game?
What about your working situation? Did that change? Did you begin to work 12-16 hours per
day doing a job that requires you to lift, bend, or be on your feet for the majority of those hours?
Or did you work comfortably from your air-conditioned office for 8.5/9 hours before clocking out
for the day, having earned more than you aimed to spend during this ‘challenge’ before your hour
long lunch break? How can you understand what it feels like to give every inch of your physical,
mental and emotional energy to be told that it is all worth pennies, and know that somewhere,
people like you are giving a fraction of that exertion to earn, what was it that article stated you
earned? 11.6 times the minimum wage?
You talk about any little curveballs throwing off the ability to live on that small amount of money,
but what you don’t seem to realize is that without the curveballs it is already impossible. You
spoke about the challenge of your baby needing medicine, but never mentioned the cost of
diapers. Were your shelves piled high with premium diapers, no worries about running out during
“'We didn't make it but it was a great experience," he said.
Ryan said he was, to a small extent, able to understand the challenges of living on the minimum wage. He admitted that he and his family were going to eat even if they don't meet the challenge and that many families go to the food bank or just don't eat if they run out before the next paycheck. But he said he learned valuable lessons.”
This statement alone shows your ongoing ignorance. You sound as though you are speaking of
a reality show you took part in. A great experience? You truly do not understand. Living in poverty
is never a great experience.
“With two days to go in the challenge, it was time for him to travel back to Washington (a cost not included in the rules). Ryan had a little more than $4 left.
He spent his last few dollars on trail mix from the convenience store in the basement of a House office building. Actually, it cost a bit more than what he had left so he had to dig into his
pre-challenge pocket to pay the difference.”
While it may have started out like an experiment, or an assignment, most would hope you would
learn enough about the challenges people are facing, to come out a more empathetic person.
Instead, you cheated at the last moment, and spent more money than you ‘had’ to enjoy a treat
before you take off in, gasp, business class.
"There is no way my wife and I could simulate the stress levels and decision making that has to go into living on a minimum wage," he said. "Our job (in Congress) is to go understand to the best we can what our constituents need and I'm not going to apologize for that," he said.
You should apologize Mr. Ryan. For giving this challenge a half-assed effort.
There is a way you could simulate the stress levels and decision making that has to go into
living on a minimum wage. I challenge you. Live in a low income housing unit for a month. Work a
minimum wage job and understand the physical aches and pains that go along with the financial
strain. Start with bare cupboards and understand what it feels like to have a hungry sleep, in a
home where you are not completely safe, and people get robbed or worse regularly. Forget
putting gas in your well-oiled car. Take public transit and feel what it’s like to rely on a system
you’ve most likely become most familiar with in printed media. Feel the stress of having to pay
your rent as well as bills and still buy groceries. Bring your wife as a learning experience for her
as well, since she would need a minimum wage job to supplement your meager income. Your kids
could learn a lot from the experience too. Then, and only then would you have a right to say you
understand to the best you can what your constituents need.
CNN Article: http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/31/politics/minimum-wage-challenge/