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Morgan Spurlock’s 30 Days – Living on Minimum Wage

If you caught the premier episode of Morgan Spurlock’s, of Super Size Me [3] fame (you can check out his blog here [4]), 30 days on the FX Channel then you saw the plight of your average, minimum-wage, hard-working but barely scrape by Joe Schmoe. The episode was amazing as it happened to hit upon a lot of the major issues minimum wage earners tackle: keeping up with rent, dealing with health issues without insurance, among other issues. It was shown at 10pm but then had an encore presentation at 11pm. I don’t know if it’ll be shown again but it’s a show you definitely should find time to watch.

The story begins with Morgan and his girlfriend locking up all of their savings, credit cards, etc. in a lockbox and starting the 30 days with only one week of minimum wage ($5.15/hr) savings, it amounted to something like under $150 each. With that, they moved to Columbus, Ohio because it represented mainstream America to him. I didn’t know this but Ohio has 4 of the 25 poorest cities in all of America (how they calculate that, I’m not sure).

Renting An Apartment
Since most places required proof of employment, Morgan was forced to look in shadier parts of town. They settled on a $325 a month renovated crack den (literally) that allowed them to pay the deposit over a few months. With only $300 in savings, this was their best option. Their thermostat had two settings: On and Off.

Getting a Job
He started by getting a job through a temp agency at $7 and then moved into construction, which paid better. Now, it’s better than the bare minimum but not much. She snatched up a dishwashing job, which I think was under the table. The downside of construction was that he then hurt his wrist and had to decide between health care and food.

Health Problems
Here is when things get interesting… Morgan hurt his wrist but kept working, making it worse, and avoided going to the emergency room because of the cost. He tried the free clinic but it only took twenty people and he was number thirty five. Then, the next day, his girlfriend had a urinary tract infection that required a 6am trip to the ER, $20 in antibiotics from CVS across town, and then a day or two of not working. They didn’t have insurance. Later on, Morgan had to make a trip to the ER where he basically got a $40 ACE bandage. The total bill for both trips amounted to like a thousand bucks – or three months worth of salary.

One of Morgan’s coworkers had FOUR kids, whereas he had none, and he was supporting them on the same minimum wage. So he borrowed some kids from relatives! They went to like the dollar store in order to get them gifts and a box of candy each… and they fought a little about it.

Public Transportation
In the beginning, they bought one bus pass and tried to use public transportation whenever possible. Sometimes the bus times would change on them or a line would be shut down for the night and they were screwed. They had to get a taxi and spend $15 of their hard earned money to get home.

Handling Bad Luck
The episode really just shows that when you’re barely scraping by (and I don’t mean Michael Jackson style where you’re spending a couple million more than what you’re taking in, I mean really barely scraping by), it’s very very hard to handle bad luck. Having the bus flake out on you costs $15 and having an injury or illness costs you far more – it’s those bad luck scenarios that dig folks in a deeper and deeper hole if everything else is going right.

At the end of thirty days…
They were $1000 in debt but at least they still had electricity, water, and a roof over their heads… right?

Working minimum wage is very very hard. It’s very hard to make ends meet and I think a lot of people take it for granted the things they have. It’s hard trying to support children making only $50 a day. If you have health insurance and you don’t have to decide between food and getting your wrist checked out, thank your lucky stars… I know I do.

Also, the episode really showed you how critical health insurance is and how perhaps countries that have universal health care probably are doing things right. Sure, if you have a good job with benefits, you don’t want to pay a little extra in taxes to fund universal health care… but what about the millions of Americans without health care? What if you just paid a few more percentage points of wages to ensure everyone had health care coverage? I think I’d be willing to chip in more so we don’t have people having to make these kinds of decisions.

Finally, the best part about this show was that it dispels a lot of misconceptions people have (called the fundamental attribution error [5]). Some folks have the misconception that people who can only work minimum wage jobs are uneducated, inarticulate, drug-using lowlifes who couldn’t do any better. Well, Spurlock and his girlfriend are educated, articulate, drug-free vegans who just couldn’t do any better.

Did you catch the show? What did you think of it?