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Del. Ken Plum: Not Up to the Wage Challenge

by Del. Ken Plum October 8, 2015 at 1:00 pm 35 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum. who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

It is not easy to admit that you are not up to a challenge that hundreds of your constituents face each day, but that’s what happened to me last week.

ProgressVA sponsored the “Live the Wage Challenge” asking elected officials, community leaders, advocates, and everyday citizens to walk in the shoes of a minimum wage worker by living on a minimum wage budget for one week. The point of the activity was to help others understand what life is like for low-wage workers and why raising the wage is important to working families and to the economy.

Directions for the simulation provided each participant with a weekly budget of $77, which represents the weekly wages of a full-time worker making the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour (minus average taxes and average housing expenses).

Even that budget is generous for the Northern Virginia region, where housing expenses alone would wipe out the entire paycheck. For the activity, I needed only to figure out how to pay for my meals, groceries, transportation, and recreational spending. The rules were very generous in not requiring me to cover the expenses of family members or work travel. The rules however did require me to eat only those items of groceries or eating out paid for within the budget. I was required to record my expenses to see how I made it through the week.

The fact of the matter is that I did not make it through the first day. It was clear to me from the beginning that I was not going to be able to make ends meet. Yet people in my community and throughout Virginia have to face these challenges every day. The simulation included a day when a child in your household gets sick. What do you do? You cannot stay home for you need to work every day to get the income. You cannot afford a baby sitter or a visit to a medical clinic.

I have been conscious of the plight of low-income people, but this activity brought home to me once again how tough life is for some people. Several years ago, I was paired with a woman living in subsidized housing along with her young daughter who had multiple handicaps. I tried to live on the budget of public assistance that she had. I failed that challenge as well. And I grew up in a home with limited income. I admire the resourcefulness of persons in these situations and their ability to live without many of the things we consider basic.

Last legislative session, I introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage in Virginia. It was supported by interfaith, religious, and labor groups. It was unfortunately opposed by business groups including the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and much to my disappointment the Fairfax and Reston Chambers of Commerce. I will introduce the bill again in 2016.

For those who have opposed the bill in the past, I hope you will go to #LiveTheWageVA and tell me and others how you would meet the challenge!

  • JamesTaggart

    I only ask this. If you raise the minimum wage, what do you think the individual businesses will do? If you think they will not raise prices to offset loses to appease their shareholders, then I think you may be mistaken.

    • Mike M

      They may go out of business.
      They may hire fewer people and demand more out of them for the same dollar.

      At the end of the day, all the alternatives to cover Ken’s legislated raises are bad for the economy. I would argue they are bad for the morale fiber of the country as well.

      • JamesTaggart

        I concur. When you’re running a small mom & pop and running on razor thin margins – you can’t afford to raise wages. And I’ll give a very unpopular opinion – but some of these jobs are not careers.

        No offense intended, but working as a cashier at McDonalds is a job for someone in highschool – not someone in their 40s.

        • BlahBlahKenSuxBlahBlah

          Working as a cashier at McDonalds pays more than minimum wage, so not a very good example. Let’s assume you own a home in Reston: you’re making at least 10 times the minimum wage: you have no way to comprehend the minimum. Let’s be generous and assume you make double the minimum wage: no way you are going to survive on that, you just might have to give up starbux.

  • JamesTaggart

    Also, Mr. Plum I believe you’re a bit mistaken and have some data to back up this claim. For your reading:

    • meh

      now that is some serious free stuff!

    • cRAzy

      Wouldn’t be nice if it were just that easy? You can’t imagine the hoops to go through to get any one of these “benefits”, much less all of them. Really silly, distorted, Republican picture of people in difficult positions.

      Not that Ken is (or has) the answer.

      BTW: What newspaper/magazine/whatever published that garbage?

    • Chuck Morningwood

      One question: If the GF isn’t going to work, why is she going to college?

      Okay, another question: if this is such a good scheme, why doesn’t everybody do this?

      One last observation: as long as Mom is under 24, her parents’ income is considered as part of her financial need. So, unless her parents are dead broke, they’re going to be footing part of the tuition bill. If she’s over 24, her income — all sources — are considered for her financial need, so the previous year’s handouts would become part of the equation.

    • Greg

      Section 8 pays $2100 in Reston for a 3 bedroom. Open market rent is no more than $1600.

  • meh

    if you want to increase the cost of labor you should reduce the labor pool. Supply and Demand is more legit and Hope and Change.

    • JamesTaggart

      Are you saying that if you reduced the amount of undocumented workers there would be a higher demand for labor forcing employers to meet the demands of the market and raise wages to remain competitive?

      That sounds very crazy to me

  • Mike M

    After High School, I didn’t like my pay, so I went to college. I covered it myself. After college I didn’t like my pay, so I got a Masters degree then changed jobs. After that, I didn’t like my pay, so I changed jobs and got an MBA. After that I didn’t like my pay so, I worked really hard and interviewed around and I showed my boss better offers from other firms. I got two raises that way! After that, I STILL wasn’t satisfied with my pay, so I focused really hard on accomplishing things of clear value for my firm and I got promoted to replace my boss when he retired. I am STILL not happy with my pay. But I know the solution, and I have no apologies for not being able to live comfortably on minimum wage. If you don’t like your pay, DO SOMETHING about it. But don’t the laws to be rewritten to shove extra money your way. That is NOT sustainable and is damaging to the economy.

    Ken, when will you stop pandering to the lowest common denominator and trying to rob Peter to give Paul a hand out? Why legislate raises? It’s Socialism. What the devil is wrong with personal responsibility. It ain’t easy, Ken. Ask the single moms who do make a decent living out here. It ain’t easy. But then it ain’t supposed to be.

    • JamesTaggart

      Same here Mike. Paid my way through college, switched employers multiple times and relocated to a new city or state if needed for the bump.

      • Guest

        Your comments don’t seem to be consistent with a James Taggart.

    • Chuck Morningwood

      You lose, Mike M. A hike in the minimum wage does not constitute “Socialism”.

      • Mike M

        Because you say so? Yes. it is, so there?

        How’s this. Even the left wing definition of Socialism adopted to camouflage their true mindset, says that Socialism is the government control of the means of production. When the government tells producers what they must pay, they are exerting control over them. Capisce?

        Marxists say that Socialism is not a state but a dynamic transition to Communism, In effect, it is the gradual perversion and destruction of Capitalism by a thousand cuts. I see any initiative to combat market forces is a movement of the meter toward Socialism. We have so much of it already in play that economy wide dictates like minimum wage are some serious Socialism.

        This is my second response. The other was censored for reasons unclear to me.

  • Mike M

    “I will introduce the bill again in 2016.”

    What do they call it when you keep doing the same thing and failing?
    Pandering? Yeah, but there is another term.

    • JamesTaggart

      Is the word insanity?

    • meh

      libs mock repubs when they keep voting to repel obamacare, but when libs do it, they are “champions” of the people.

      • Chuck Morningwood

        Right, meh. So, would you rather have no insurance and lower wages or have health insurance and higher wages.

        • JamesTaggart

          I have both – but I decided that a career at McDonalds or Harris-Teeter wasn’t going to get me it

    • Ming the Merciless

      “Keep doing the same thing and failing” ought to be his campaign slogan, since he has made a 33-year career of it.

  • Sorebonius

    With increased minimum wages I expect, nay, I demand more cleavage and shorter tops from Hooters waitresses. #HootersForReston

  • Rational Reston

    Mr. Plum,

    Twice in my life I worked at minimum wage. The first time as a part time employee in high school, the second time as a part time employee in college.

    In both instances, I worked honestly and hard and thus, I did not stay at those minimum wage rates long.

    Also in both cases, I was free to leave my job to pursue other opportunities if I felt I was not being compensated properly.

    THIS, Delegate Plum, is how the world works. Work honestly, and hard, and always be open to new opportunities. Not to be cowering in a corner looking for a handout because a handout was given before.

    If someone is making minimum wage for more than 6 months, they need to take a hard look in the mirror, or at other opportunities.

  • Troll Troller

    Me come here for lively discourse and exchange of ideas.

    • Troll Troller Troll

      Me too!

    • Mike M

      I get it. You are afraid to argue your beliefs. I don’t blame you. But this is really just name calling.

  • RoadApples

    I personally support an incremental increase in the minimum wage on a more regular basis .
    I also feel that Representative Plum ‘ presentation and treatise on this issue to be redicchio and sophomoric.

  • shagga

    ken, unlike you who can rubber stamp your own raises…people in the real world complete useful tasks than is deemed valuable to other people so they offer us more money to work for them. Please retire and let someone who is actually in touch with real problems of the community take over and solve some problems. Your good ole boy network milking the system is only hurting the next generation of residents.

  • susie

    It’s unfortunate that people who often go into politics are not America’s best and brightest.

  • Cluster Tycoon

    Based on the active comment section I see quite a few responders and so that means plenty of high level thinkers and also, an educated a passionate readership base. I think that automatically qualifies Ken’s regular column as one of the largest click generators and also establishes Ken as our local thought leader and representative of our.collective interest.

    • MaggieSays

      Donald Trump also is a good click generator and inspires passionate discussion among educated people. Would he be our national thought leader using your criteria?

  • John Higgins

    Minimum wage laws have existed for over 600 years. Interestingly, they came after maximum wage laws, but that’s a topic for another day.
    The minimum wage appeared in the U.S. about 77 years ago, basically to address some horrific practices in sweatshops. Those days are long gone (most would agree) but the minimum wages is here to stay. Accept it….or invite a new wave of silly, excessive regulation.
    That leaves the question: what should the rate be? Do we look for the lowest common denominator? Do we identify a time when the rate was “right” and inflate it every year? Do we develop a table of rates for different industries? You decide.

    Where the discussion goes off track, in my view, is trying to make fair compensation for labor a new social device that delivers a “livable wage”. Giving it an attractive name doesn’t even suggest how to use such a wage across the hundreds of different situations of workers to whom it would apply.
    Unfortunately, we are left with the complex package of developing a humane approach to meeting the needs of those around us. We use the tax code, benefit programs, charities, free health insurance, and techniques like the minimum wage, but in the end, it comes down more to the “how” than the “what”. Sadly, that’s a national conversation I doubt we will ever have.
    So, raising the minimum wage will satisfy the political urge to do something that sounds right. That something also results in increased unemployment, interruption of normal market forces, and the need for additional government benefit programs. That’s not wise, but I’m putting my money on this easy “solution”.


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