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Ohio lawmaker ekes by living on state minimum wage, urges increase

July 20, 2018
Kent Smith News

The first half of this week (July 16-18), State Rep. Kent Smith (D-Euclid) participated in the #LiveTheWage or #$17ADay Challenge. In September 2015, 18 members of the Florida Legislature attempted to live five days on $17 a day.  In Ohio, workers earning minimum wage have $17 a day on which to live after paying rent and taxes if their rent is $674. Rep. Smith is the sponsor of House Bill 86 with Rep. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus), which would raise the state's current minimum wage from $8.30 per hour to $10.10 per hour.

"On Sunday night I opened an email asking me to partake in the $17ADay challenge for at least three days. Since my minimum wage bill had not received a single hearing from the Ohio House GOP majority despite being introduced more than a year ago, I decided I would accept the challenge," Smith said.

Smith documented his attempt to live on $51 over three days on social media so anyone could follow his progress and perhaps join the challenge themselves.

The Cleveland-area lawmaker said an Ohio United Way study, showing 40 percent of Ohio families have trouble maintaining daily expenses on minimum wage, in part, motivated him to try living on $17 per day.

If Ohio were to raise their minimum wage to $10.10, over 1 million Ohioans would get a raise which would result in approximately $2.1 billion additional dollars being circulated throughout our economy. If HB 86 were to be adopted, 23 percent of Ohio children would see one of their parents get a raise.

Throughout the three-day challenge, Smith continued to attend to his duties as Ohio’s Representative from the 8th House District.  He attended all his planned engagements and meetings across the Greater Cleveland area.  Rep. Smith met with public school leaders, attended a JobsOhio briefing, joined Rep. Rogers for a tour of NEOCAP and had a meeting with Cleveland Clinic leadership among other engagements.

Smith said that, while the experience was eye-opening, he still didn't face many of the same challenges Ohio families face every day. Due to the timing of the challenge, he avoided common household expenses like car loans and maintenance expenses, utility bills and pet food. He also started the challenge with a fully stocked kitchen and no children to support.

Through the stress of budgeting for gasoline, eating diminished meals and turning off his air conditioning, Smith said he had peace of mind most minimum wage earners do not. If an emergency arose, he had personal savings at his disposal.

"I would never be able to sustain this over 365 days," Smith said. "I don't think anyone could."

Rep. Smith posted updates on Twitter and daily summaries of his experience on Facebook. These posts led to heart-wrenching responses and messages.

"I learned more from reading about other people's challenges living on minimum wage then I learned from my experience," concluded Rep. Smith. 

A common theme Rep. Smith heard was the sadness and despair of parents who felt like just could not do enough for their children.  “One person wrote, ‘you learn how to stretch a dollar so far that it breaks into pieces and so does your heart,’ Smith recalled.

“Doing the #LiveTheWage Ohio challenge, opened the communication channels to Ohioans who have struggled and are currently trying to keep their heads above water,” said Smith.  “I may have gone to bed hungry a few times but for forty-percent of the state, it happens most nights if not all the time. We in the Ohio General Assembly can and should do something about this.”

“Republicans in Ohio should stop hiding from their moral duty to help these Ohio working families. I call upon them to take the #LiveTheWage challenge and then to work with Rep. Craig and myself to give HB 86 the hearings it deserves.”