A Yelp employee publicly complained to the CEO that she couldn't afford to buy groceries - I tried living on her salary to see how true that is



Kathleen Elkins/Business Insider

Living on an $8.15-an-hour salary in Manhattan for a month was trickier than I imagined.

Earlier this year, a Yelp employee publicly complained to the CEO that she couldn't afford to buy groceries, thanks to the combination of an $8.15-an-hour after-tax salary and living in the notoriously expensive San Francisco Bay Area.

Hours later, she was fired, which sparked a lively dialogue.

She saw "an outpouring of support, including donations to her personal PayPal account," Business Insider's Matt Weinberger reported. She also received a cacophony of criticism, including a brutal response from one millennial that went viral.


But Talia Jane (not her full name) certainly isn't the only one having trouble making ends meet.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 4% of all hourly paid workers (about three million people) earn the before-tax $7.25-per-hour federal minimum wage or less.

More startling, Pew Research Center found that 30% of hourly workers (about 20.6 million people) are "near-minimum-wage" workers - those who make more than the minimum wage in their state but less than $10.10 an hour.


Many states and cities have set their own, higher minimums. For instance, the before-tax minimum wage in San Francisco is $12.25 an hour, and will be $15 an hour by July 2015. In New York City, it's $9 an hour, slated to climb to $15 an hour.

Is it really that hard to make ends meet with a "near-minimum-wage" or otherwise limited salary? To find out, I decided to simulate living on Jane's salary for 30 days. I didn't quit my job - I put the overflow in savings, which sets my situation apart from Jane's immediately. I'm also based in New York City rather than San Francisco, but considering the two cities trade off the title of "most expensive in the US" depending on the list you're reading, I felt comfortable with the comparison.

Note that my experience has to be and has been different from hers, and it was worlds away from the millions of Americans who live on minimum or nearly minimum wage day in and day out. Even with the advantages that come with higher pay, including benefits and a safety net of savings, it was difficult. I can't imagine what it must be like to have a consistently limited income. After only a month living on $8.15 an hour, I can say: It's just as hard as it sounds.