Logic vs. emotion in minimum wage debate


By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog

LOGIC VS. EMOTION: Like the classic Star Trek characters of Spock and Kirk, debates about increasing the minimum result in logical arguments versus emotional ones.

“Today we are issuing a challenge to those in congress who oppose raising the minimum wage: Step into the shoes of a minimum wage worker and live the wage for one week — for one week — to get by on just $77 in one week. $77 represents the weekly wages of a full-time minimum wage worker minus average taxes and average housing expenses. We dare you. Try it.”

That was the challenge issued during a telephone conference call hosted by Brad Woodhouse, president of United for Change, one of the main sponsors of “Live the Wage.”

Former Gov. Ted Strickland and several members of congress accepted. So did I.

The scenario was that both my husband and I lost our current jobs, but found minimum wage work and had to modify everything in order to get by. According to the rules of the challenge, we’d have $154 for the week for food, gas, entertainment and emergencies.

Like Strickland, who took advantage of cold medicine in his cabinet, and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who stocked up on diapers ahead of time, we had spices and condiments in our cupboard and fuel points we had accumulated.

Strickland and Ryan both ran out of money before the week was up, but not before complaining about how hard it was and how hungry they were.

They made poor choices with their limited funds, like Strickland’s purchases at McDonald’s and Ryan’s $7 for sardines and crackers, $5 Burger King Whopper, $2 cup of coffee and spending his last couple of dollars on trail mix.

My husband and I were able to meet all our expenses during the week with some money — not much — left over. It wasn’t easy, but we didn’t go hungry.

Hey, we thought. We did it!

Apparently not.

Since we weren’t starving or suffering, we failed the challenge. And for doing so, we were mocked, ridiculed and verbally attacked.

People who didn’t know me said I lacked compassion. They called me a right-wing yuppie and accused us of driving new foreign hybrid cars. (I actually drive a Jeep Liberty that I bought new in 2002.) I was mocking the poor. I cheated because I used goods in our cupboard, even though Strickland and Ryan did the same thing.

Oh — and I wanted poor people to die.

I was bad for playing a political gotcha game, but the politicians playing the same political gotcha game had better motives, so that was okay.

I didn’t do it to “see what it was REALLY like to live on Minimum wage.” Apparently I “thought it would be cute to play the game.” I wasn’t searching for truth.

I missed the point.

But did I?

My experience, and reader comments on Ohio Watchdog, showed the ridiculousness of the publicity stunt — as if living for just one week on $77 would really give someone a taste of what it was like to live on a minimum wage.

It can’t, and it’s foolish to pretend it can.

It also showed how inept our politicians are that they couldn’t figure out a household/food budget and live on it for a week, like so many American families do day-in and day-out.

I’ve lived on a minimum wage in the past and I vividly remember what it was like.

No one aspires to be poor. But I don’t believe people need to be poor, or pretend to be for a week, to understand that it’s hard.

Sadly, there are poor people in America, but the average income of a household containing a person earning a minimum wage is about $66,000, which means most minimum wage earners aren’t poor.

In Ohio, and 22 other states and Washington D.C., the minimum wage is higher than the $7.25 federal rate and the majority of individuals earning that qualify for other government assistance, so they’re not really getting by on just $77.

Why was I treated so differently than the politicians who were praised for their failure at the challenge? Why the double standard?

Because, people concluded, the politicians felt the pain while I, obviously, did not.

This was all about sympathy.

U.S. Rep Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said, “It’s designed to make us more sensitive to the challenges of living on a minimum wage.”

According to many, I didn’t “suffer enough” during the challenge. And if could get by on the challenge, I couldn’t possibly have learned the desired lesson. That incorrectly assumes I hadn’t learned it years ago when I did actually earn minimum wage.

Unfortunately, too many think they’re going to help others if they support raising the minimum wage. This challenge isn’t going to accomplish that.

It’s an appeal to emotion and most people who oppose increasing the minimum wage do so because they think it will hurt, not help, those who earn it. It’s a logical opposition, not emotional.

The economic arguments — that it will cause the price of goods to rise, will shut more unskilled people out of the workforce and cost jobs rather than create them — can’t be overcome by emotion or some silly stunt whose only purpose is to elicit sympathy.

Compassion is an individual attribute, not something a government can or should do. If people really want to help, they can donate weekly to a food bank, teach an adult to read, share items from their garden, treat the kids of their low-income neighbors to ice cream or other goodies they can’t afford, mow their elderly neighbor’s lawn or offer to take them to the doctor.

Individual actions demonstrate the compassion so many are hoping this fake challenge will achieve — and they’re much more effective at helping the poor than some trivial and inane stunt that does nothing but put a politician’s face in the news for a week.