Illinois residents who make the minimum wage are overdue for a raise.
The same is true for Americans across the nation. Workers are more productive than ever, but you wouldn’t know it based on their wages. In the last four decades, their pay has lagged far behind their contributions in the work force. The disparity helped make “income inequality” a catchphrase of the decade.
As the federal minimum wage has declined in real dollars, states and municipalities have acted on their own to raise worker pay. This state is slightly better off than some others. Illinois has a minimum wage of $8.25, a dollar more than the federal minimum set in 2009.
It’s not nearly enough. That’s why Chicago and Cook County have taken measures, independent of the state, to gradually raise their minimum wages to $13 an hour.
Illinois lawmakers should take these moves as a signal to raise Illinois’ minimum. Tragically, we don’t have leaders in Illinois who are getting it done.
A bill sponsored by Democrat Will Guzzardi of Chicago to raise the hourly minimum to $15 gradually by 2022 is gaining steam in the Illinois House. It passed through a committee last week with no Republican votes.
In better times, a bill sponsor and House Speaker Michael Madigan would hammer out a compromise with Republicans. But politically, we’re living in extreme, partisan times.
So we have to question if the bill is meant to contribute to political theater in Springfield. We don’t doubt Guzzardi is earnest in his desire to raise wages for hourly workers. His bill would soften the blow for small businesses by including significant tax credits for employers with 50 or fewer employees.
But, as we see it, $15 will be dead on arrival if it makes it to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk.
There seems to be no room for compromise between a demand for $15 and Rauner’s agenda. “Getting people halfway out of poverty is not going to do it for me,” Guzzardi told us.
Democrats and unions are doing workers no favors by staying married to $15. The state Senate’s “grand bargain” budget package that is nearly dead had originally included a gradual increase to $11 an hour by 2021, but pressure from national labor groups led Senate Democrats to drop it. They thought it was too low.
A veto by Rauner would in some ways be a gift to Democrats, who could hammer the governor in political ads in his bid for re-election. And, no, it’s not too soon to think about the 2018 election, considering Rauner already is appearing in ads statewide with no mention, of course, of his role in Illinois’ budget mess.
Two years ago, Rauner said he wanted a gradual increase to $10 an hour over 7 years. That’s 25 cents a year, and he tied the increase to demands that he claims will create jobs and grow the economy. Democrats laughed at the meager raise.
If neither side gives at all, workers will see zilch. That’s too bad because we believe lawmakers could rally support from business groups if they really tried. The Illinois Restaurant Association still backs $11, as it did in 2014.
“In a perfect world, it would be uniform throughout the state,” association President Sam Toia told us.
In explaining Schaumburg’s decision to opt out of Cook County’s increase, Allison M. Albrecht, the village’s communications manager, last month told the Sun-Times: “It is the village’s belief that employer-related mandates are best left to be determined at the state or federal level.”
Democrats blew an opportunity to pass a hike late in 2014 in former Gov. Pat Quinn’s last month of office. The House was on the verge of passing an increase to $11 but lost support from business groups after Chicago voted for $13.
“Since the governor took office, Speaker Madigan’s majority has not passed an increase to the minimum wage, and has failed to do so for many years,” Rauner’s spokeswoman, Eleni Demertzis, said in an email.
The bottom line is Illinois residents need a raise.