Here's What Happened When a Former Governor Tried to Live Off of the Minimum Wage


The news: Former Democratic governor of Ohio Ted Strickland tried to live on minimum wage for a week and, in his own words, he "didn't make it."

In an op-ed for POLITICO, Strickland explains how he failed in his attempt to live for just seven days on $77, the amount the "Live the Wage" campaign estimates is left in a 40-hour minimum wage employee's weekly pay of $290 after accounting for taxes and housing. Strickland, a Harvard fellow and well-off political operative, was clearly unprepared for just how quickly expenses added up. He had spent his $77 by Thursday after realizing his meager budget left him without the money necessary even to pay for public transportation.

Here's how it went for the former governor, in his own words:

"For the week, I walked as much as I possibly could to avoid paying for transportation, skipped meals to save money — and I ate much smaller and less healthful meals when I did eat. Because fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to find at a price within a minimum wage budget, I turned to bread, peanut butter, bananas and bologna more than anything else. That was what I could find when I took this budget to the grocery story last Sunday. And that's why I ate lunch from the McDonald's dollar menu."

Ted Strickland. Image Credit: Getty

The background: Strickland freely admits that he can't really walk in the shoes of the American poor, who also have to provide for their families and pay for additional things like health care. Still, his minor sacrifice was eye-opening, putting in stark contrast just how different life really is for the estimated 3.3 million American workers making the minimum wage. But while Strickland can easily return to his comfortable lifestyle, those workers can't.

The conventional wisdom is that most people making the minimum wage are teenagers supported by their parents. But raising the minimum wage to President Obama's preferred level of $10.10 would directly benefit the many workers making slightly above the minimum wage and indirectly benefit millions of others whose pay scales would be adjusted.

The Economic Policy Institute, for example, reports that 88% of the people whose pay would be increased are at least 20 years old and around 35.5% of them are at least 40. Twenty-eight percent have children.

Moreover, some states with large numbers of low-wage workers would benefit more from a minimum wage increase than others. In Idaho and Tennessee, for example, 7% of all workers make the minimum wage.

Finally, while the minimum wage hasn't seen an increase in five years, many common consumer goods and foodstuffs have gotten much more expensive. The Huffington Post put together this chart showing how things like coffee, cheese and meat have all seen double-digit increases in prices, as well as essentials such as gas. Because $77 has less purchasing power than it did five years ago when it comes to all of the things on this list, Americans are long overdue for an increase.