Without Public Transit, Getting Around on Minimum Wage Is Its Own Expensive Struggle

Friday was the final day of the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge, during which Minnesota Rep. Jason Metsa lived on a budget of $7.25 an hour for one week. Previously, Rep. Metsa made a budget, went grocery shopping, looked for housing, and met with Minnesotans who are living on minimum wage.

On his last day, Rep. Metsa’s challenge was to do something he usually took for granted: go home at the end of the week.

Metsa hails from the Iron Range, specifically Virginia, MN, and it’s about a three hour drive from the capital. On the budget he had set out at the beginning of the week, he had $268 a month for transportation. “Most people would have a car payment, but luckily I don’t, because my car is a ’99,” he told us.

He does have an insurance payment of $138 a month, which leaves him $32 a month for gas and maintenance; not enough even to get around on the metro during the work week and also get him home.

And then there’s maintenance. “I need an oil change, but there’s no way to do that on this budget,” Metsa commented. “Just before I started the Challenge, I put $1,800 into the car – on minimum wage I’d have to take out a payday loan to cover that. And that’s not ideal for a low-wage worker, with the high interest.”

It was sobering for Metsa that on a minimum wage budget, he’d literally have to take out a loan in order to make it home. “This budget has no room for mistakes, no room for an emergency, and it’s almost an extra job to make sure I’m spending each penny wisely,” he said.

“If I really was on minimum wage, I probably wouldn’t have a car,” Metsa continued, “I’d probably use the extra money to secure housing. Without housing, considering any other part of this budget is impossible.”

So without a car, Metsa would have to work either walking distance from his home or somewhere that was metro or bus accessible. This is feasible in St. Paul near his current job at the Minnesota House, but impossible in Virginia and other parts of the Iron Range (and much of the country) where adequate, affordable, public transit is nonexistent.

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