My Turn: Lessons learned during the ‘minimum wage challenge’

For the Monitor
Published: 7/22/2019 8:15:15 AM

My family recently took the minimum wage challenge. And we failed. We failed from the first day. I am a pastor and I am not super rich by any stretch, but I didn’t realize until I did this challenge how economically privileged I really am. I had a budget on the challenge for food, rent, transportation, household essentials. We found that over and over we did things that we couldn’t have done making only minimum wage.

On one of the days of the challenge a friend who I haven’t seen in some time called to ask if we could meet at the Friendly Toast for breakfast in Portsmouth. I went, but spent my week’s allotment on gas and food in that one trip.

My son was having some friends over to hang out. We usually get snacks and lunch for his friends. Even though we tried to spend as little as possible we spent three days worth of food money on this one event.

I went shopping for food one day with my budget of $14. I was aware of what everything cost. I was aware of every dollar I spent. Usually, when I food shop I just get whatever I want to have, but this way was more challenging. I was able to get enough food for breakfast and dinner, but I would have had to go without lunch.

There were a number of times during the week when we did something as a family and we would say, “We couldn’t do this on minimum wage.” We would acknowledge our failure to live on minimum wage.

As people of privilege we learned how much we take for granted. When living on the minimum wage you spend so much more time and energy thinking about money. All the things I take for granted are a real challenge for someone else. There are so many things you are not able to do if you have to live on the minimum wage. Is it too much to ask that people who are working are able to live without every day being a challenge?

I care about my neighbors. I want for them the same things I want for myself. I want them to be able to host their child’s friends, go out to breakfast with someone they haven’t seen in a while or cook a nice, healthy meal. I don’t want them to have to choose which meal they will skip that day. I don’t want them to have to decide between gas in their car or paying for heat.

If you are like me and have economic privileges, I am wondering: Do you care about your neighbor enough to want them to have the same things that you take for granted?

I wonder if the politicians know what a challenge it is to live on the minimum wage. If they did, would they be so callous to dismiss people who do? I hope not. I hope they care about their neighbor just like you and me.

(The Rev. Jonathan K. Hopkins lives in Concord.)

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