Governor tried, failed to live on minimum wage for a week, ran out of bologna

Former governor of Ohio: “It’s un-American that you can work and work and work and not get out of poverty."
By JC Sevcik  |  July 28, 2014 at 6:52 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 28 (UPI) -- Ted Strickland attempted to live for a week on the budget of someone earning minimum wage and couldn't quite get by.

The former Democratic governor of Ohio gave himself a budget of $77 to cover his food, transportation and any additional expenses that might arise.

In his own words: "I didn't make it."

Even skipping meals and eating smaller portions to save money, Strickland found himself unable to afford a healthy and well-balanced diet.

"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," Strickland writes about his experiment on Politico.

Strickland's foray into poverty shows how minimum wage workers simply don't have access to healthy food options and are forced by their finances to consume food more likely to cause health issues they'll likely be unable to afford to treat.

"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," he explained, adding that he had to cut out the big dinners and impromptu visits to coffee shops he's accustomed to.

Affording food wasn't the only challenge. Transportation also posed a problem on Strickland's restricted budget. The former governor walked everywhere in 90 degree heat, and was late for a meeting -- he would normally have taken a taxi -- because he couldn't afford to pay cab fare.

When he caught a cold, he realized how an unexpected medical expense can sabotage a budget and stop a family stretching money as far as they'd hoped. His experience makes him reflect on the day-to-day decisions faced by the working poor in America, especially those struggling to support not just themselves but a family.

"Right now, in America, a minimum wage worker is spending her workday worrying about a decision she is going to have to make when she finally makes it home. Will it be electricity or diapers this week? Medicine or gas?"

Strickland was over-budget and out of cash by Thursday.

The former governor, who is currently the president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, chose to experience a week of life below the poverty as part of the "Live the Wage" challenge, a PR initiative to draw support for Democratic efforts to boost the federal minimum wage, which hasn't been raised in five years.

"Washington is in a bubble that keeps our representatives away from the experiences of those they actually represent. We need to understand the challenges faced by Americans who are being left behind in our economy," Strickland said of the campaign, which is asking those in Congress to try to live on the minimum wage for a week before opposing an increase.

Strickland knows that his privilege stops him from really understanding poverty.

"I have an apartment here in Washington and a good job," he writes. "I know I'll never be able to truly walk in the shoes of a minimum wage worker, but experiencing just some of the decisions this income requires on a daily basis is enough to understand that we need to do better for these hardworking families."

Strickland's conclusion after a week on a minimum wage budget:

"It's un-American that you can work and work and work and not get out of poverty. The promise of America is that working hard and playing by the rules will help you get ahead, but right now, we're breaking that promise. It's time to give America a raise."

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