Washington DC — Marking five years since the last federal minimum wage increase, paycheck fairness advocates today issued the 'Live The Wage Challenge' to Congress: Step into the shoes of a minimum wage worker and live for one week on just $77. Earning just $7.25 an hour, the average full time minimum wage worker struggles to survive on just $77 a week after paying taxes and housing expenses. On a press call today, CAP Action President and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky ( D-IL-9 ) and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan ( D-OH-13 ) were joined by a low-wage worker from Chicago to announce they are taking the 'Live the Wage Challenge' and will journal their experiences on Facebook and Twitter, using #LiveTheWage. Participating organizations are encouraging their membership to visit www.LiveTheWage.com, to take the challenge and tell their stories on social media.
Audio of the press call at the link: images2.americanprogressaction.org/Press/7_21_14_Live_The_Wage.mp3 .
66 national advocacy and research organizations including Center for American Progress Action Fund, Organizing For Action, NELP, MomsRising.org, Americans United for Change, EPI's Policy Center, SEIU, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, NCLR, NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, National Women's Law Center, 9to5, EMILY's List, American Women, Jobs With Justice are sponsoring the challenge and are encouraging their members to take part and share their stories on social media. In the coming days, new reports and polling data will be released underscoring the worsening economic consequences of the outdated minimum wage. OFA will also launch an integrated digital campaign to support the Challenge, encouraging supporters to join in the Challenge conversation and call on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage.
Ted Strickland, Former Ohio Governor and President of CAP Action: "No one who works hard and plays by the rules should live in poverty or have to choose between food and electricity every month, but that's the reality for millions of Americans living on today's minimum wage. American workers are the backbone of our country, but each day when we hear stories of how our economy is growing out of the recession, we also hear how too many of our working families are being left behind. We need to stand with these 30 million workers, and Congress needs to take action to raise the minimum wage for the first time in five years."
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky: "My husband and I are taking the Living Wage Challenge this week in solidarity with hard-working families who are trying to make ends meet. Through this effort I believe what is clear to many business owners, employees and economists should finally resonate with House Republicans — it is time to give America a raise by increasing the minimum wage and getting millions of American families closer to a living wage."
Congressman Tim Ryan: "My family and I are ready to begin the Minimum Wage Challenge. Every day hard working Americans still struggle to make ends meet, and this challenge will give me an opportunity to walk in their shoes, although nothing could ever give me a full perspective of the hardships these men and women endure on a daily basis. I call on all Americans, including minimum wage increase critics, to really consider how difficult it is to pay rent, taxes, utilities, health and to provide food and entertainment for your family on such a small amount of money. I urge all my colleagues on both side of the aisle to join me in the challenge and get a small glimpse of what life is like for those living on minimum wage."
Brad Woodhouse, President, Americans United for Change: "To the Members of Congress who draw a six-figure government salary and say $7.25 an hour is a livable wage, I say walk the walk. Live the wage before refusing the raise the wage. These tone deaf Members might just change their tune if they had a little perspective."
Heather Holstein, Low-wage workers from Chicago, IL: "I'm currently an hourly paid employee and I've been at my job for over a year. In that time I've gotten one raise — 11 cents. I have a few thousand dollars of hospital debt, but unfortunately with my current income I am unable to pay any of it off. I don't think my current living situation is sustainable. Both of my parents are on disability, so financially, it's not an option to ask family for help. My boyfriend and I split living expenses — I feel so lucky to have that small bit of relief. We'd like to get married and start a family, but with my current income I'm not sure when we'll be able to do that. Increasing the minimum wage would provide just another bit of relief - I wouldn't constantly worry if I can afford to go to the doctor or buy food for the week. Even an increase of a dollar an hour would make a world of a difference to me. I would be in a better position to pay off my hospital debt and finish school. My boyfriend and I could start planning our life together. I can't understand why some leaders in government won't do anything about this. It's not right that people working hard can be in such a shaky situation - one bill could put me over the edge. They need to understand how hard this is and how much we are suffering."
While worker productivity is at record highs, profits are concentrated into fewer hands. CEO pay, Wall Street bonuses, and corporate profits have soared over the last five years, and if the minimum wage kept pace with productivity, it would be more than$18 an hour. Instead the average minimum wage worker's annual earnings have been stuck near $15,000, and more and more working families have slipped into poverty as the price of groceries, utilities, gas and basic necessities have climbed due to inflation. As a result, family budgets are stretched to the breaking point. Nearly a quarter of all of minimum wage workers — workers that include child care providers, janitors, and nursing assistants — are the primary bread winners in their family and those who would be affected by a minimum wage increase average 35 years in age.
More than 600 economists and business leaders are calling on Congress to give America a raise now. Raising the minimum wage is not just the right thing to do when it comes to income inequality. Raising the minimum wage is one of the most effective ways to kick start the economy, unlike slashing tax rates for billionaires and corporations that ship jobs overseas. Raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 would boost the wages of 28 million workers by $35 billion, generate $22 billion in economic activity, and support the creation of 85,000 new jobs. Putting more money in the pockets of minimum wage workers makes them stronger consumers, which leads to more hiring to meet the new demand for goods and service, and helps grow the economy. As an added bonus, a higher minimum wage results in less employee turnover and more productivity. Businesses like Costco and GAP have shown that investing in workers is a recipe for success.
America is embracing significantly higher wages. Ten states and three cities have increased wages in the last six months alone, and there are active campaigns to raise local wages in 11 other cities and four states. States like Washington and Colorado that bypassed congress and raised their minimum wages are already feeling the benefits — seeing faster job growth on average than their neighbors.