OKLAHOMA CITY – A local politician is performing a social experiment. Before asking for your vote, Cathy Cummings wants to relate to the 890,000 Oklahomans living on minimum wage. Cummings is running for lieutenant governor.
For the month of November, she and her husband are living on just $7.25 an hour for a full month. That adds up to $1,160 each before taxes.
Their rent house is small, dark and a little grimy but for the next 30 days its home.
Cathy said, “What’s really hard is, is that people are struggling. This is not enough money to live on.”
It is something the couple learned at the grocery store the first week. They gave us cell phone video of Cathy wanting oranges but had to settle for bananas because that fruit was much cheaper. They left with beans, potatoes and rice but were reminded of their lack of money again at the gas pump.
Sean said, “The gas here is $2.84 a gallon. Right down the street and across the street, it’s $3.16 and man, I tell you that actually matters right now.”
They paid most of their bills up front and now have less than $100 to live on the rest of the month.
“What happens is a fear sets in and you’re saying, ‘Oh my gosh! We only have $90 left. It has to last us through the month,” Cathy said.
She added, “If we get a flat tire, if one of us has to go to the emergency room; my husband has asthma. What if he has an asthma attack during the night? I mean, literally, there are so many families who are one disaster away from being completely broke.”
With all of that on her mind, she gets ready for the job she’s acquired for this experiment. Putting on her smock, lacing up her shoes and capping her hair net she heads to Buy For Less grocery store. The company actually pays its employees a few dollars more than minimum wage but for the purposes of this experiment they adjusted her hours to stay at the pay rate of $7-25.
From sorting chicken to cutting grapes, she puts in a hard days work while emotions start to set in. “Your’e afraid to go to the store because you’re afraid of how much it will cost. You’re afraid to get gas you might only get five dollars and that’s really what happens you’re scared everyday so I think the anxiety is more prominent than anything else,” she said.
While Cathy comes to grips with how difficult things are, f or 890, 000 Oklahomans, living on minimum wage is a reality. That statistic comes from Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.
“I actually lost my job temporarily December of last year, said Michelle Fipps. She watched the Cummings talk about the experiment during an in studio interview with Ali Meyer on News Channel 4. Fipps wanted to weigh in on the issue.
We caught up with her as she ran errands, working to get a loan modification for her home that is a paycheck away from foreclosure. And unlike Cummings, her problems won’t be over at the end of the month.
“There is no end in sight unless you find a good paying job. I think a lot of people perceive people on minimum wage or less as uncaring, lazy, don’t want to have a job and that’s just not true, said Fipps.”
Before she talked to us, she had a second round of interviews at 7:30 in the morning for a job that would help her make ends meet but not much more. While she applauds the candidate’s efforts to relate, Fipps said there are some things she just won’t understand.
“Anyone making minimum wage is in a mindset that Mrs. Cummings will never be in, nor will any of our lawmakers unless they live it, breath it, feel it and know the terror of not being able to make your bills.”
She continued, “What they’re missing is despair, hopelessness, embarrassment of the financial issue that they’re in.
Now Cathy Cummings told News Channel 4 one point – she was a single mother who struggled financially. But that was a long time ago she feels her social experiment was a good reminder of the struggles facing many Oklahomans.
News Channel 4 called and emailed Lt. Governor Todd Lambs’ office to see if he wanted to comment on this story or the minimum wage issue. His office never responded to our request.