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Pay cut: State lawmakers try living on a minimum wage

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Five Minnesota lawmakers will try living on a minimum wage for the next week.

MinnPost reports Reps. Karen Clark (Minneapolis), Frank Hornstein (Minneapolis), John Lesch (St. Paul), Jason Metsa (Virginia) and Shannon Savick (Wells) are taking part in the so-called Minimum Wage Challenge.

Using the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, the quintet will have to set a budget, shop for groceries, and look for affordable housing. At the end of the week, MinnPost says the five will meet with low-wage workers.

By the way, salary for a Minnesota state legislator is $31,140 a year (assuming a 40-hour work week, that's about $14.97 an hour). They also get a per diem for living and travel expenses during the regular legislative session.

Metsa actually did this last year as well. The Iron Ranger spent five days in April living on a minimum wage. When Metsa was done, he told Working America – the nonpartisan AFL-CIO affiliate behind the challenge – it was a humbling experience.

“It would be even more challenging if I had to do this for a month – or had a family,” Metsa told the non-profit. “If I had a family I might have to make hard choice, like giving up my car that requires insurance so I could have a larger food budget for my kids.”

A lawmaker from the Sunshine State gave this a shot.

Florida State Sen. Dwight Bullard tried it last summer, and spoke with the Palm Beach Post during the run. By Thursday night, the Democrat was eating Honey Nut Cheerios for dinner.

“I’ve been completely taken back by all the little things I’ve had to give up,” Bullard told the publication. “I’m used to stopping by Starbucks once a week for a cup of coffee and a piece of banana bread. I can’t afford that now.”

All five Minnesota lawmakers taking part in this week's challenge are DFLers, and it's important to note the party is gearing up for a minimum wage battle during the upcoming legislative session.

The Democrats are reportedly aiming for a jump to $9.50 an hour – above the federal minimum of $7.25, and way above Minnesota's current rate of $6.15. (Few businesses in Minnesota are able to pay below the $7.25 rate, however.)

The momentum seems to be there.

Governor Mark Dayton said it is a priority for him. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman threw their weight behind an increase. Northland's News Center notes the mayors of Duluth (Don Ness) and Hibbing (Rick Cannata) publicly pushed for it. And MinnPost says DFL Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley is sponsoring a bill to raise the minimum wage.

But it is still far from a sure thing.

In 2013, Democrats in the state senate approved a modest increase to $7.25 an hour, with votes falling along party lines. DFL members in the House wanted a bigger number, and the legislation died before a compromise could be worked out. The House never voted on the issue.

As for this year, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, told the Star Tribune forcing a minimum wage hike through is possible – but it could hurt big businesses and put jobs at risk.

“We could run a minimum wage bill out the first day and just slam it home," Bakk said. "But it might create a disaster for the rest of the session.”

The 2014 legislative session starts Feb. 25 at noon.

If you want to try seeing how your own budget would work on a minimum wage salary, check out this interactive piece from the New York Times. Pick your state, punch in how much you need to spend on bills and such each month ... and watch your dollars (literally) fly off the screen. It will even tell you how many hours you need to start working each week at a second job in order to break even.

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