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Could you change your life in just 30 days? That’s the question documentary maker Morgan Spurlock asked when he filmed his new Channel 4 TV series, 30 Days. Martin Grady reviews the first programme of the series, 30 Days on the Minimum Wage*.

Spurlock, who is most famous for Supersize Me, his film about the dangers of eating junk food, became frustrated that few people know about poverty in America. He and his fiancée Alex decided to film an experiment – they’d give up their jobs for a month and try to live on the minimum wage. The resulting documentary, which was filmed reality-show-style using a handheld camera, contains a powerful, social message about the growing gap between rich and poor in the USA. 

The couple travel to Columbus, Ohio, one of the poorest cities in the USA. The only apartment that they can afford to rent is filthy, in a dangerous area, and has no heating or furniture. Alex begins working as a dishwasher, and Morgan does building work with no safety equipment. Neither of them earns more than the minimum wage. 

It’s difficult to watch Morgan and Alex struggling in such terrible conditions. A charity gives them some furniture for free, but they have to live without heating, TV and telephone. They’re exhausted and freezing all the time and begin to argue about money. The couple interview people in the same situation and listen to their stories. It’s difficult to imagine, but these people have lived on the minimum wage for long years and many have children. When Alex becomes ill and Morgan badly injures his wrist, they go to a free clinic for the poor, but can’t see a doctor because of long queues. People there say that without free medical care they would die. 

After thirty days, the experiment has failed. They have spent over $1,000 more than they have earned. The couple are shocked – they can go back to their comfortable life in New York, but what if they couldn’t? How would they continue to survive?

*The minimum wage in the US today is $5.15 per hour.

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