It’s been five years since Congress last raised the federal minimum wage, and the laugh-a-minute gang over at Organizing for Action wants you to do something about it. You might better remember the group as Organizing for America. An offshoot of President Obama’s campaign apparatus, the grassroots organization is tasked with promoting his legislative agenda. Not sure why they dropped “America” from their name. Perhaps too many members found it offensive. I kid, I kid. Sort of. Anyhow, by their calculation, people who earn minimum wage are left with about $77 per week for food and transportation after other expenses. In the grand tradition of meaningless political theater, they are challenging sympathetic Americans to live for one week on that budget and chronicle the results on the Twitter hashtag #LiveTheWage. The results could not possibly be more entertaining.
The first clue that this hacky stunt was destined to go poorly? An information sheet about the challenge distributed at LiveTheWage.com. It features such condescending gems as “consider using weekly coupons to save money” and “gas is also expensive, so you may rely on public transportation instead of driving.” I suspect that many sensible Americans, rich and poor alike, were already aware of these revelations prior to reading a fact sheet hammered out by some student intern from Bowdoin spending a summer in D.C.
This next line is a stumper: “[a]nd because minimum wage workers usually don’t have this option, try not to eat fre meals at other people’s houses to skirt the budget.” Why don’t minimum wage workers have that option? It seems to me that the occasional shared meal would be an excellent idea for friends and family members on a budget. The organizers of Live the Wage seem to believe that we don’t allow the less fortunate to have friends and family. Of course, they also want people to become increasingly comfortable with government-based solutions, so I can see why they’d downplay the possibility of privately helping out those you love.
President Obama himself has remained silent on the matter. Just kidding. He sent out a series of tweets with graphics meticulously color coordinated with the Live the Wage website. These are all variations on the theme that while the price of goods has increased over the past five years, the minimum wage has not. But as Twitter users such as @ExJon and @GlomarResponder shrewdly pointed out, Obama has been president the whole time. His gripe amounts to a tacit admission that he has presided over a period of economic instability and rampant inflation.
What of those brave souls who have taken up the challenge to live for a week on a paltry 77 bucks? Representative Jan Schakowsky, a congresswoman from Illinois, posted a picture of her lovingly handwritten poverty menu–what the rest of us might think of as a grocery list–on her Twitter feed. The poor woman has been reduced to eating such items as muffins, apples, cereal, chicken salad, hot dogs, and baked beans. She even posed for the camera while making tuna sandwiches. It’s disturbing, though perhaps not surprising, that a sitting member of Congress is so far out of touch. This menu is supposed to make us feel bad? Most Americans already eat that way and see nothing wrong with it. Hell, I eat tuna sandwiches at least once a week.
The tweets from people who aren’t sitting members of congress are just as bad. Twitter user @SooperMexican leveled barbs at a 28 year old woman who admitted that she had to learn how to peel a banana expressly for the challenge. “I hate bananas, but they’re cheap,” she lamented. Twitchy.com did an excellent job of compiling the most clever responses to the Tweets of Rep. Schakowsky, President Obama, and others.
It’s probably too much to hope for the Democrats–or any political party, for that matter–to dispense with silly political theater. But if they absolutely must make an appeal to pathos, they should at least do it right. In this case, all the donkeys have proven is that their policies helped cause the problem, and that it’s possible to eat fairly well on minimum wage.