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Janelle Irwin’s Fight for 15 Challenge: Days 2 and 3

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

Day Three of my Fight for 15 challenge is winding down, and I’ve already failed oh-so-miserably. But that’s OK – my failures only further the intended argument sweeping the nation.

People just can’t live a functional life on minimum wage.

For two and a half days, I have been absolutely fantastic at squandering money and scrimping on meals. Tuesday, even while running around (like a chicken with its head cut off, mind you) managing the Election Day madness, I didn’t spend a single dime on food or beverages.

So, how did I fail, and why does that prove that low-wage work sucks?

I had a doctor’s appointment Tuesday, one scheduled for well over a month. I wasn’t about to cancel for a social experiment. The visit was not covered by insurance, and as such cost me $100 out-of-pocket.

Peace out Fight for 15 Challenge!

If I were truly a minimum-wage worker, trying to raise three daughters with nothing but $17 a day to spend, we would not only have to eat on the cheap, dodging any semblance of a social life to make ends meet, we’d also have to avoid medical care.

Even in the case of doctor visits covered by health insurance, the copay alone blows the daily budget by $3 for my children and by $13 for me.

So, there’s that. Hey, poor people – you can’t go to the doctor!

And that’s not even the whole problem. On Monday night, my phone rang at about 9:30. It was my fiancé. He usually calls Monday night around that time to let me know he’s on his way home from work. It’s his longest day of the week, so it’s always a welcome ring to hear.

Instead of the usual, though, he had called for rescue. Emerging from his office after a 12-hour day, he found one of his tires flat. Then, after putting on the spare, within a block it too went flat.

At that hour, he was stuck.

So that put us in a scenario – we either needed to buy a new tire or have the old one patched. We opted for the patch. The tire was still pretty good, but it put us back $30.

And then there was gas. Remember Monday, when I wrote about strategically planning to make a half tank of gas last all week? Yeah, well those two unexpected trips to and from Tampa ruined that.

So, by my calculations – not considering any other expenses for the week – the tire and doctor fiasco put me at about $150.

Fail. Fail. Fail. And so much fail.

A real minimum-wage worker may not have a choice to fix the tire, let alone replace it if necessary. If a radiator breaks, it’s a catastrophic expense. Kid need a prescription? Sorry family, we’ll be living on kibble for a month to pay for it.

I may have technically failed, but I think my failure is actually a win.

The haves take for granted being able to say, “Shucks, it’s a pain in the butt that I have to drive to Tampa, but we’ll just buy a new tire and all is well!”

A dialogue for the have-nots probably includes a multitude of four-letter words and on top of the trudge through an insurmountable mound of adversity.

And consider this: Being poor is actually expensive. You know those things called “overdraft fees?” You know who gets those the most? Poor people.

Need a new car? Middle-class Americans just pop into a dealership and get a nice low-interest car loan. Poor people have to go to a “buy here, pay here” joint where they’re subjected to skeevy car salesmen and uber-high interest rates.

The haves can buy food in bulk and save a ton of cash. The have-nots are lucky if they can eat something other than ramen for the night.

Got a parking ticket heading downtown? The haves begrudgingly pay it and move on. The have-nots tuck it away in a drawer because they can’t afford to pay it. Fees pile up and before they know it, there’s a boot on their car.

I mean, I could go on and on and on. The bottom line is – it’s so easy for people opposed to living wage ordinances and laws to say, “Just get a better job.” But when your days are spent having to decide whether to eat or go to the doctor or whether to have the water or the electricity turned off until your paycheck comes in (which, by the way, comes with a fee to have turned back on!) it’s pretty hard to take the steps necessary to make that happen.

Continuing education may be out of the question. Additional job training might be too expensive or maybe just doesn’t fit into the schedule. Getting ahead from behind is far more difficult than getting ahead when you’re already ahead.

But a lot of the haves don’t know that because they’ve never been a have-not.

Even though I’ve already failed, I’m going to keep chugging away at this challenge to see what else pops up.

Not just for myself, or even the cause, but for my kids, so that when they grow up as haves, they at least know what it’s like to walk a day in the shoes of the have-nots.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email

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