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Can You Live on $77 a Week? Ohio Lawmaker Takes the Challenge

PHOTO: Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Dist. 13) is among a handful of lawmakers taking a challenge to live on a federal minimum-wage budget of $77 this week. Photo courtesy Rep. Ryan's office.
PHOTO: Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Dist. 13) is among a handful of lawmakers taking a challenge to live on a federal minimum-wage budget of $77 this week. Photo courtesy Rep. Ryan's office.
July 24, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Living on a wage of $7.25 an hour isn't easy, but it's what millions of Americans who make minimum wage face. Today, it has been five years since the federal minimum wage was last increased.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio's 13th District is among those taking the "Live the Wage Challenge." He has agreed to walk in the shoes of a minimum-wage worker and live on a typical minimum-wage budget of $77 for one week. Ryan says he understands he won't face exactly the same challenges as lower income families, but he hopes the symbolic gesture will bring attention to their struggles.

"We're going to get nowhere close to what a normal family would have to deal with," says Ryan. "We have a new baby, and we have boxes of diapers that we've already purchased. We have toothpaste and things in our medicine cabinet that won't challenge us this week, but would challenge a normal family."

It's estimated that more than 5 percent of hourly workers, or 3.8 million people, are paid at or below the federal minimum wage. Ryan is among those in Congress supporting efforts to raise it to $10.10 an hour.

Ohio's minimum wage of $7.95 was raised just this year. A dozen other states also have higher minimum wages than the federal $7.25 amount.

Others participating in the challenge include former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, and U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, both Democrats. Ryan says he is encouraging other colleagues to join, so they learn just how difficult it is to get by on such a small amount of money.

"We say a lot in Washington, 'We want people to work hard and play by the rules,'" he notes. "But at the end of the day, if you work hard and play by the rules and you still can't make ends meet, and you still live in poverty, then the rhetoric is just not going to be enough."

In the spring, the U.S. Senate voted to end debate on a measure to raise the federal minimum wage, with just one Republican voting yes. Opponents of a higher wage argue it would kill jobs, but Ryan believes it would do the opposite – because the more people earn, he says, the more money is spent and goes back into the economy.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH