Local leaders start the "minimum wage challenge"

Imagine you make $300 a week, most of which goes to your rent and bills.

Now imagine trying to navigate life — emergencies, birthday gifts, education, your kid's school uniform — with that pittance.

Many people are stuck in low-wage jobs because they don't have the same advantages as others, not because they lack smarts or ambition, advocates for raising the federal minimum wage by more than double say. That could be why the Fight for $15 movement is gaining traction across the country, and politicians at every level are lending an ear.

On Monday, numerous Florida lawmakers and politicians have pledged to see what it's like to live on Florida's minimum wage of $8.05 an hour over the next week. They announced their intent at a St. Petersburg McDonald's at an event put together by the Fight for $15 movement.

“I'm only doing this Fight for $15 challenge for a week," said Democratic Congressional candidate Eric Lynn, who is running for Pinellas County's 13th Congressional seat, who is taking the challenge. "In Florida we have 1.7 million people in poverty, which is almost one in 10 Floridians.” 

No one wants to make $8 an hour, and those who are stuck in a job that pays that level often rely on government assistance — or multiple jobs — to cover their most basic needs.

While opponents to a wage increase say most earners at that level are teenagers living at home, a disproportionately high number of people actually rely on those minuscule paychecks for survival; the vast majority of low-wage workers are over 20.

For years, the Fight for $15 movement has sought to draw attention to the plight of low-wage workers from a spate of industries, and has had increasing visibility among multiple sectors.

For Lynn, the week is going to be particularly tough — he has a wife and two kids, one of which has a birthday coming up.

"What my wife and I looked at is how we're going to live on $300 a week for ourselves and it's going to be very, very difficult, particularly because my son's birthday is on Friday," he said. "We actually had a family trip planned to the toy store on Thursday, so now we're thinking we're going to go to the toy store on Thursday, we're literally not going to have any money left for food, to be able to live on.”

Lynn said that problem seems small compared to the problems those who spend the bulk of a lifetime making poverty wages face, which is why he hopes to do something about it.

“I'm proud to take the challenge to Fight for $15,” he said. “My wife and I have two kids. [It's] so important, why we need to fix this not only in Tallahassee, but I'm running for Congress to fix this in Washington."

Other local politicians to take the challenge include State Reps. Dwight Dudley, Darryl Rouson, and Ed Narain.

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