In 2006, I appeared with Morgan Spurlock on Oprah’s daytime show. We had lived on minimum wage for our FX show, 30 Days.
Thirty million Americans who work full time are living in poverty. The federal minimum wage in the United States is $5.15 an hour and has not been raised in almost 10 years.
Someone working full time at minimum wage earns $10,712 a year—that’s $8,000 less than what the government defines as poverty.
Why should you care? These are the very people we rely on every day. They are the teachers’ aides in your child’s classroom. They are caring for your aging parents in the nursing home. They make sure your hotel rooms, your offices and your schools are clean. They are security guards keeping buildings safe. They are paramedics who are there in your most desperate hour.
In one experiment, Morgan and his fiancée, Alex Jamieson, left their home in New York and tried to survive for one month in Columbus, Ohio, living on minimum wage.
They agreed on three ground rules for their experiment: They had to earn minimum wage, they could start with only one week’s pay in cash, and they had to freeze their credit cards.
Living without medical insurance is like “living right on the edge of a knife every single day,” Morgan says. As they found out, it can lead to financial ruin overnight.
Morgan says manual labor had aggravated a wrist injury, but he couldn’t afford a doctor’s visit. When he tried to visit a free clinic, he was told there weren’t enough doctors to see him that day.
The free clinic was not even an option when Alex woke up in the middle of the night with a urinary tract infection. They went to the emergency room and to a 24-hour pharmacy to fill Alex’s prescription. Later that day, the pain in Morgan’s wrist forced him to go to the emergency room as well.
The bills from the emergency room were enough to significantly harm their budget. “We went to the hospital to get Alex’s bill. Just for walking into the emergency room it was $300,” Morgan said. “My bill? Just to walk in the door, $551. It’s incredible.”
After their experiment was over, Morgan and Alex say they were about $1,200 over their budget. “It would have taken us three months to pay it off—as long as nothing happened,” Morgan says.
Seeing just how difficult living near minimum wage was, Morgan made some changes in his life. “At my own company we didn’t have health care, so the minute I got back, I got everybody who worked for me health care immediately.”
Morgan says he’s also more aware of issues facing the millions living near the poverty line. “There are so many people who don’t need a handout. They need a hand up.”
Alex says it made her want the burdens of poverty eased. “It made me realize we need to talk to the people who represent us and say this needs to change on a national level,” she says. “This is totally unacceptable for this country.”