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D.C. Mayoral Contender To Live Off Of Minimum Wage For A Week

Wells, who currently makes $130,000, will have to survive on $98 for food and transportation this week.
Patrick Madden/WAMU
Wells, who currently makes $130,000, will have to survive on $98 for food and transportation this week.

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) is taking on a new challenge today: he says he'll live off of what minimum wage workers make for a week.

Wells, who is also running for mayor, will announce this afternoon that he'll keep himself to a budget that aligns with the city's minimum hourly wage of $8.25. That means that he'll spend only $98.28 on food and transportation, which is what he has estimated minimum wage workers have available after paying off bills and housing expenses.

“I can’t imagine the reality of the daily struggles D.C. minimum wage earners face,” Wells said in a statement. “Just observing someone else's difficulty does not compare to consciously altering your habits to better understand what it might be like to wear someone else’s shoes.”

As a legislator, Wells currently makes $130,000; if elected mayor, his pay would increase to $200,000.

The D.C. Council recently gave initial approval to a bill that would increase the city's minimum wage to $11.50 by 2016, which would be the highest rate in the country. According to legislators, raising the minimum wage would help residents earn enough without having to rely on certain social services like food stamps.

Still, a minimum wage of $11.50 would still leave many families struggling for housing. According to the Economic Policy Institute, a family of three in D.C. needs to earn $34.81 per hour — just over $72,000 per year — in order to attain a modest standard of living.

Chebon Marshall, a campaign spokesman for Wells, said that the week-long effort was aimed at drawing attention the ongoing fight for a higher minimum wage, primarily the fact that the Council has to vote on the bill a second time and Mayor Vincent Gray will have to sign it. Gray has said that he favors a minimum wage of $10.

Wells won't be the first elected official to attempt to live off of what the some of the city's poorest make: in 2012 Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) spent a week living on $30 for groceries, roughly what recipients of food stamps get. In July, New York mayor-elect Bill De Blasio took part in the minimum wage challenge.


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