Emily Harmon: Live the Wage

Emily Harmon

Growing up, I was always comfortable. My dad is a vet, and my mom has done various jobs, from working to Mary Kay, raising my 3 siblings and I, and working at my dad’s clinic. I never went to bed hungry. I always knew I would go to college one day. There are many conversations on privilege this is leading into; one of them is when I worked a minimum wage job after college I could always count on my parents if I needed extra money.

That’s a luxury many minimum wage workers do not have, just like how I do not have children to feed, I do not have any health issues, I do not have an elderly parent to care for, and the list goes on.

The #LivetheWage challenge is not realistic for many reasons, but attempting to live on $77 a week was still impossible for me. Right now, Emilysomeone who works full time on the minimum wage earns only $290 a week – after housing costs and taxes, that breaks down to just $77 a week to spend on food and transportation.

I started the challenge on Monday, September 22. I pretended that my boyfriend, Moroni, was my kid – a mouth I had to feed. That was an initial failure, as he bought lunch at work that Tuesday (could say he received free and reduced lunch at school…)

I spent $32.29 on groceries. I attempted to buy decently healthy food: turkey, whole grains…but that is more expensive. I already had milk, fruit, and a bit of other food so I added $15 (realistically those items cost more than that). This came out to 47.29.

I already had a full tank ($30 tank because I have a fuel efficient Honda Fit), so I added $15 as I go through half a tank in a week when I just drive to work, and “my kid to school” (Moroni to work).

That means I was $62.29 – $14.71 remaining for the week. I had a little bit of leeway in case a small emergency happened, but what emergency only costs $14.71? That Friday, I spent $5.47 on items for a potluck at work. That left me with $9.24.

I took my car in that Friday for routing maintenance because I had the appointment scheduled for a while. That costs $30. I broke budget on Friday, technically cheating. But, I would not have made it through the weekend with $9.24. Moroni and I had barely any food left, and my parents even bought us dinner one night!

Luckily, this was during the summer so I could run outside, which is free. I definitely would not have been able to afford a gym membership.

Looking at this without even considering a person’s dignity, just consider that fact that minimum wage workers are paid wages that undervalue what the labor is actually worth. This eliminates the opportunity for many to thrive in our country.

Without labor, we would not have an economy. It’s time we adequately paid workers for their work.

Many preach on the value of equality and stand proud at the thought of the legendary “opportunity” that exists in the United States, but we owe it to ourselves, and everyone, to face reality. The minimum wage is not a livable wage. It is not paying workers for the work they are doing. It suppresses equality and opportunity. Think about what our country could be if we had a workforce that was valued – there is so much potential there.