GateHouse News Service
Posted May 29, 2012 @ 12:05 AM
For many Illinois mothers and fathers, straining to make ends meet, the Illinois legislature has the ability to do something both fair and strategic: vote for an increase in the minimum wage. This month, the state Senate Executive Committee passed a bill ntroduced by Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, that would do just that, and its passage in the full Senate would be a crucial step toward a fair deal for many parents and their families.
According to Mark Doussard, assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, low wage workers now make up more than one-third of the work force in Illinois, which is a scandal in itself. How can we create a thriving economy for our children and grandchildren if more than a third of our hardworking people are making less than $12 an hour? These are the very people who will benefit from the rising tide of a minimum wage increase. More than 1.1 million low wage workers in our state, who make minimum or just above minimum, can expect an increase if SB 1565 goes through. And every dime of their increase will be spent in local communities, creating some 20,000 new jobs from the increased consumer spending, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Some big businesses that make billions off of low wage work argue that they will cut jobs if wages increase. But look at what minimum wage workers do. They care for our children and elderly parents, clean our homes, serve us food. They work in retail and health care. None of those jobs can be moved overseas, or even to the next state. Studies show that raising the minimum wage in one state results in no loss of jobs or small businesses to surrounding states with lower minimum wages.
Think about it. Parents who make the current minimum wage of $8.25 per hour, which amounts to just $16,500 annually, earn incomes below the federal poverty line — even if they work full time. As Jenna Stemm, a working mother from Alton, says, “I am a tipped worker so I only make $4.95 an hour and with the economy going so badly, people aren’t eating out as much or tipping as much. If things get worse … then I am going to need to use things like food stamps to feed my son. I am not able to save any money because I am living paycheck to paycheck, so if something unexpected happened I wouldn’t know what to do.”
The bill pending in the Senate would gradually restore the state minimum wage to its historic high — about $10 and hour in today’s dollars — and then index it to keep pace with future increases in the cost of living. This increase would boost the annual earnings of a minimum wage worker, over time, by $4,800 each year, enough to lift a family of three just over the poverty line. The bill would also eliminate the lower minimum wage of $4.95 for tipped workers, making them entitled to the same pay as other minimum wage workers and increasing their earnings by more than $11,000 per year.
Tipped workers are significantly more likely to fall into poverty than the general work force. According to a recent study by the Restaurant Opportunities Center, servers are nearly three times more likely to be paid below the poverty line and a twice as likely to need food stamps as the general population. Seven states have raised their tipped minimum wage to the full value of the regular minimum wage, as Illinois proposes to do, and in each of these states the poverty rates for tipped workers has been substantially reduced as a result.
Mother’s Day is past and Father’s Day is coming. Let’s support Illinois working parents this year by passing an increase in the minimum wage. Parents who work hard for a living ought to make enough to support themselves and their families.
Michelle Young is president of Action Now, an advocacy group based in Chicago.