Earlier this month, a number of Florida Democrats in the Legislature committed to taking the “minimum wage challenge,” a pledge to live on $17 each day for five days to illustrate what it’s like to live on Florida’s minimum wage, which is $8.05 an hour. The $17 comes from the amount a minimum wage worker might take home each day after taxes, childcare, and housing.
The lawmakers are focusing attention on a bill sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard from Miami and state Rep. Victor Torres from Orlando to push the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
On Tuesday in Tampa, City Councilman Guido Maniscalco met up with activist Kofi Hunt and McDonalds worker Tina McElroy to show solidarity with the movement.
“I want to bring awareness to it,” he said of the Service Employees International Union’s “Fight for $15” campaign, which in addition to calling for raising the minimum wage for fast-food employees, has added adjunct professors, childcare employees and healthcare workers as well to the cause — as well as pushing for them to have the ability to unionize.
“As a councilman, I’m limited, but I just want to show that I stand in support of their cause, and try to improve the quality of life,” he said while standing outside the Sunrise Food Market on North Howard Avenue in West Tampa.
McElroy says she used to work for an established company in Tampa where she made $16 an hour, and said that was challenging making car payments, utilities and food. Now she makes nearly half that rate working for the fast-food conglomerate.
Maniscalco channeled Aaron Sorkin in paraphrasing the lead character from the HBO television The Newsroom in describing the country right now.
“He said ‘America is not the greatest country in the world, anymore. It used to be,’ and I think we have a weak middle class; it’s either you’re wealthy or you’re poor.”
Although living on only $85 maybe a challenge for some, it probably won’t be for Maniscalco, considering he took up a similar challenge called Live Below The Line, an annual anti-poverty campaign that challenges participants to feed themselves on an extreme poverty level for five days, which Maniscalco said was $1.25 a day.
“I looked for the cheapest prices on food, which happened to be at Walmart — not that I like going there,” Maniscalco recounted. He said he ended buying himself a pound of lentils, two pounds of brown rice, five bananas, a loaf of bread and a pack of Wrigley spearmint gum at 35 cents. No coffee, no tea, no soda, only water.
“I like to try to save, so would I use the entire $17 a day?” he asks about the minimum wage challenge. “No, if I can do it for $5 a day, I would keep that money leftover for whatever else I needed.
Inside the food mart, McElroy advised Maniscalco on what items he could purchase to save, but the Tampa City Councilman said for some of the those purchases, he’d save money by going to the Dollar Tree. “That’s where I go. If I need a pack of pens, I’m not going to go to Walgreens for $3, I’m going to go to the Dollar Tree for a buck.”
In West Coast cities like Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, the local city councils have voted to raise the minimum wages to $15 an hour. Under Tampa’s strong-mayor form of government, that’s not an option for Maniscalco and the City Council. He says ideally it could go to $12 or $13, but he does worry about the impact on small businesses.
In a recent discussion with lawmakers who took the minimum wage challenge, several admitted that they could not afford to stay on it for the entire week.