When I was growing up in Columbus, Ohio, I was lucky. My parents had good-paying jobs and while they had to balance their own budget at the kitchen table they never faced trade-offs between providing us with a meal or a coat to wear in cold Ohio winters.
Even though most of us are lucky not to have our own minimum wage stories to tell today, we can - and should - all be talking about what it means to try and live on a minimum wage in our country. And more importantly, we can - and should - all be a part of finding a better solution.
When I was working in my first and second jobs I lived in a group house with 3 roommates and I was living on peanut butter and crackers and boxed mac 'n' cheese because that was all I could afford. It was tough at the time, but even then I had the security of health care provided by my employer, paid sick days and paid vacation time, and credit cards and parents who could support me when the ends weren't meeting.
But the reality is that most women and families living on the minimum wage don't have that security. And they may not have a path to a better paying job. That's why we all need to be talking about the reality of the minimum wage. The minimum wage provides little for those families to live on to begin with and their budgets can easily be upended by a health problem, a broken down car, or an emergency.
This week marks the fifth anniversary of the last time minimum wage earners got a raise. It also marks the beginning of the Live the Wage Challenge. The challenge invites people across the country to live on just $77 for the week, to experience, even for just a short time, how little the minimum wage provides and to start a real conversation around the minimum wage. The goal of the Live the Wage Challenge is for everyone, across the economic spectrum, to share their stories and make their voices heard about raising the minimum wage. That's how we'll raise the wage.
As the Executive Director of American Women, I spend my days researching the lives of women and families cross our country. And this week I'll be joining activists and members of Congress and living on $77 to bring attention to the challenges facing too many families across the country.
At American Women I also research the policies that would give those families a fair shot to get ahead, not just get by - one of those policies is a higher minimum wage.
Right now, the minimum wage in my home state of Ohio is $7.95 an hour. Nationally, it's just $7.25 for hourly workers and $2.13 for tipped workers. And two-thirds of minimum wage earners are women. Keeping the minimum wage low holds these women and their families back.
When you make $7.25 an hour you're faced with impossible choices like expensive childcare or missing work and losing out on the money your family needs.
When you make $7.25 an hour you have to tell your kids why they can't join the soccer team or participate in after school activities because there's no room in the family budget.
When you make $7.25 an hour your hard work brings in just over $15,000 per year to support your family. And that's just not enough.
Raising the minimum wage doesn't just help the workers earning it, but their families and their communities. It could also go a long way toward closing the gender pay gap. And, it wouldn't hurt states either. The Associated Press reported that "the 13 U.S. states that raised their minimum wages at the beginning of this year are adding jobs at a faster pace than those that did not."
We all benefit from having a community - and a country - of better paid workers. But even if raising the minimum wage only helped minimum wage earners, that is more than reason enough.
It's probably not surprising, then, that there is widespread support for raising the minimum wage to $10.10. American Women polling found that 62% of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $10.10.
And while those of us taking the challenge get to go back to our normal budgets next week, there are still actions we can - and should - take. The minimum wage is no longer a livable one. And the way to change it is to vote this November.