Could You Live on $800 a week?

Recently on Real Time with Bill Maher there was a heated political debate (is there any other kind?) between those members of the panel.  One of the guests, Nicolle Wallace, believed that the minimum wage was fine where it is and that the government should let businesses decide what employees should be paid.  Then Mr. Maher posed the question, “Could you live on $800 a week?”,  Nicole Wallace look shocked and answered jokingly yes, immediately responding with “of course not”.  Keep in mind that $800 per week is $20 an hour which is far beyond the $10.10 that was being talked about.  $800 per week is about $42,000 per year which is not a king’s salary by any stretch, but also represents a much greater standard of living than our current minimum wage earning families.  Nicolle Wallace laughs that she cannot live on what amounts to double the proposed minimum wage and apparently sees no problem with this reasoning.

On the surface these words and actions may not seem overly callous, but to me they cut deep.  People who have no trouble following this line of thought obviously have a sense of entitlement that I cannot fathom.  Ms.  Wallace sees $42,000 a year as a paltry sum of money that the mere mention of living on that amount is laughable.  From her vantage point everyone is paid what they are worth and she is worth more.  She would never even have to entertain the notion of $42,000 a year, much less the $21,000 per year that closer represents the proposed minimum wage.  She imagines that the only people who make minimum wage are high school kids and those too lazy to go out and get “a real job”.  Perhaps those people making less than $10 an hour enjoy making such a small sum of money and find it hard to give up such a great gig.  These people are not only earning these low wages, but expected to live off them and often support a family.  I’m sure they would relish the opportunity to make $800 a week, not laugh at how living on it is unrealistic.

If I was posed the same question I would respond affirmatively because I know that I could survive on $42,000 per year.  However, if someone asked if I could live on $400 per week I would honestly say that I could not do it.  If I were asked additionally if I think everyone should be paid at least enough to make $400 per week I would agree and find it difficult to argue otherwise!  I think I am setting the bar pretty low at half the wage you scoff at the idea of being able to live off.  The minimum wage needs to be a wage that is large enough to cover necessities, including health insurance and food.  If you are viewing twice the proposed minimum wage as not enough to cover your life expenses, but feel comfortable with others trying to support a family on that do some self reflection on why you feel so entitled.

Do not get it wrong or try to spin my words, I am not saying that everyone should be earning enough money to own a yacht or be Jay Gatsby.  I am not even advocating a wage that supports lighting imported Cuban cigars with $100 bills (much less $1,000 bills).  However, in a civilized society we should at least have some minimum standards in place for those citizens who go to work for us every day.  Not only do these workers make more in their jobs, they are less reliant on government supplementing income and have more money to spend in the economy.

I look at money as a necessity for life in the same way that I view drinking water.  If someone asked me if I could live on 4 glasses of water per day and I say, “of course not”, it seems like I have a pretty good barometer of what should be the minimum available to sustain their life.  If I was then asked if half that amount should be the minimum water consumption I feel confident that I would want people to earn an amount of water that would at least support their life.