Americans all across the nation have been calling for lawmakers to raise the minimum wage to the livable wage it was meant to be when it was first implemented. Democrats, like President Obama, have expressed their desire to see it raised and help pull millions of hardworking Americans out of poverty, but Republicans have blocked every attempt to do so. On September 28, twenty Democrats in Florida announced that they would be participating in the “Minimum Wage Challenge” to see if they could survive on the state’s measly $8.05 per hour wage; this week they revealed that many of them failed and they are renewing their fight to raise the wage in the state.
All of the participants pledged to live on just $17 a day. That is the average amount of money a minimum wage worker has left over after costs of taxes, childcare and housing expenses are deducted from their pay. This money is supposed to provide food, clothing, transportation and any other expense a family needs to survive. At the beginning of the week, they all went shopping with a minimum wage earner to buy groceries and see what it is like to be forced to live on an unlivable wage.
The participants said it was a huge eye-opener.
Senator Dwight Bullard participated in the challenge for the third year in a row and said this time, many other lawmakers joined him. The Senator said in previous years only a handful of legislators participated in the challenge, so he has hope that there will be strength in numbers when they try to get a minimum wage bill passed this time around. Every other time he has attempted to pull his fellow Floridians out of poverty, the bills didn’t even make it to committee rooms.
“I wanted folks to know that this is something I’m serious about,” Bullard said of SB 6. “I see the rising inequality in salaries and I know we need to pay more…Strength is in numbers. We’re telling them these people need to be paid more.”
Bullard said his week was going as well as could be expected, until he suddenly had a dental emergency — something many of the working poor have to deal with all the time.
“For one, I felt blessed that I had the medical coverage to take care of myself. But looking at my budget, I realized I would have had to forgo medical treatment if it meant keeping my family fed,” said Bullard. “Those are tough decisions, frustrating decisions, that people have to make every day.”
One of the constant struggles a member of the minimum wage working-class deals with are unexpected medical or dental emergencies. Often times they have no money to get treated and are stuck going to work in excruciating, sometimes debilitating pain. In fact, some people have such horrible dental problems, it keeps them unemployed.
Florida is dominated by Republicans who do not care if the people in their state can afford food or medical treatment. They have no interest in raising the minimum wage and helping struggling families. After all, these are the same lawmakers who refused to expand Medicaid to nearly a million low-income Floridians earlier this year.
There is absolutely no reason millions of families should be forced to live in poverty. All of the falsehoods the Republican Party has used as an excuse not to provide people with a livable wage have been debunked. It’s time to go after every politician who shows us that they care about corporate profits more than American families and vote them out of office.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.