As a one-time minimum wage earner in America–even with a college degree, I’ve been listening to the comments pro and con on the topic with a sense of bemusement. President Obama wants to increase it to $10.10 an hour and, according to those opposed to it, it will lead to less work for all.
I’m not sure how they arrived at this factoid; all I know is that I earned roughly the equivalent of the proposed amount in 1985 and it wasn’t very much money even then. I had to live at home.
Then I found a job that paid $650 a month (before taxes) and we all celebrated, but this is what I dealt with every month:
- $200 rent
- $30 heat and electric
- One weekly tank of gas for the car: $20.00 x 4 = $80
- $100 health insurance
So long, groceries. Maybe I’ll see you next month. I couldn’t have survived without my parents.
Now, take the $10.10 amount and plug your monthly expenses into the budget. Where I live, the average rent for an apartment is about $1000 per bedroom per month.
But I’m not here to argue the point. Instead, I’d like to suggest a fun reality show based on the minimum wage. That last sentence would be cruel except for who I want as contestants: members of the United States Congress. How much fun would that be?
The rules are simple:
- Each contestant is given $200 cash, a pair of jeans, a pair of chinos, 2 shirts, a jacket, and a pair of shoes.
- In the first episode, contestants are given new identities and a high school diploma. They must surrender their cell phones and any access to their previous lives. They are warned that they will lose $20 for each infraction of the rules.
- Contestants are then blindfolded and driven to a small town in America where they are dropped off and told they will be picked up in 90 days.
Then gather the family around the television and watch the fun as our camera crews follow “John from Ohio” and “Paul from Wisconsin” as they try to find food, shelter, and work.
John might get an early start hitchhiking to Wal-Mart the next morning because he overheard a conversation in the Dollar Store (where he went for underwear and a toothbrush) that they are hiring.
Paul heads right over to Denny’s restaurant where he hopes to parlay his experience as a dishwasher into a job.
Hopes are raised; hopes are dashed. And the money is running out. How will this end?
Someone gives John the address for the welfare department, which he keeps in his new vinyl wallet. Paul just heard about a men’s shelter outside of town but he doesn’t have a car and the county did away with public transportation during the Reagan administration. John thinks of seeing if there is work at the local Post Office, which he helped to name. He loses $20 of his cash when he tries to tell the Postmaster who he really is.
John and Paul might consider pooling their resources except for the most fun rule of all: the winner is the contestant with the most cash after 90 days. The winner is flown home to his or her old life and the loser is taken to another small town where he or she must compete against a new contestant for another 90 days.
Who might it be? Maybe “Eric from Virginia” or “Ted from Texas.”
I, for one, will be glued to my television all season long.
In the meantime, if you are a producer, have your people call my people (that would be me, actually).