Friday, February 14, 2014

Humanizing data: Can you live on the minimum wage?

Can you live on the minimum wage?
A while ago, when the bill that would cut food stamps and increase farm subsidies was being debated, I tweeted that all representatives in the House should be forced to survive for a month after being paid just the minimum wage and given food stamps*.

It's easy to make fun of poverty and inequality sitting on the leather couch in your office, reading spreadsheet after spreadsheet of figures. It's also easy to say that "generous" unemployment benefits discourage people from looking for jobs; or that the ultra-rich work their asses off, which is why they deserve to make in a day what you, my dear blue or white collar fellow, make in a year; or that reasonable measures to curb inequality are the work of undercover neonazis.

It's much harder to be that silly if you've ever experienced true economic hardship or if you acknowledge that wealth may be the product of your own efforts, but also of chance and luck. To make you think for a bit, you should also try to balance your personal budget as if you were a low-wage worker, which is what the NYT visualization/calculator/simulator above lets you do. Go on, give it a try. It's fun —and painful.

*The major of Phoenix, AZ, Greg Stanton, tried to do it. Here you have his thoughts.