Posted by StreetWise in Magazine ArticlesMayor Rahm Emanuel’s Minimum Wage Working group issued a report July 7 that recommended increasing the hourly starting pay in Chicago to $13 an hour by 2018. The increase would affect about 410,000 Chicago workers.
“I fully support the proposal by the Working Group to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $13 in the next four years and want to thank the hundreds of residents and members of the Group who voiced their thoughts and contributed to this proposal,” Mayor Emanuel said. “When people hold a job and do the work, they deserve to live better than to live in poverty and now we can take that next step to- wards making sure that every working Chicagoan has a shot at the middle class.”
Nearly 1 in 3 working Chicagoans make less than $13 an hour now, according to the report issued by the Working Group, which Emanuel appointed in May. Hispanics comprise the largest group of these low-paid workers, at 38 percent; whites and blacks are each 27 percent and Asians are 7 percent. Fifty-five percent of those making less than $13 an hour are women. All age groups, except those below 18 and those of retirement age, were evenly effected.Although the Working Group acknowledged that an $18.83 hourly wage was needed to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent, the report said that $13 would take into account the 20 percent higher cost of living in Chicago than downstate. “In fact, a Chicago minimum wage of $13 is roughly equivalent to a wage of $10.65 in the rest of the state when costs of living are factored into the amount.”
The current minimum wage in Illinois is $8.25 an hour. Legislation to raise the wage to $10.65 an hour by 2016 stalled in the Illinois General Assembly last spring. As a result, legislators passed a proposal for a non-binding referendum on the November 4 election ballot that proponents say could push Democratic legislators into backing the measure. Gov. Pat Quinn signed the proposal, but his Republican opponent Bruce Rauner has at different times proposed cutting and raising the wage, according to the Chicago Sun Times.
Meanwhile, the Raise Chicago Coalition and three Chicago aldermen – Roderick Sawyer (6th ward), John Arena (45th ward) and Joe Moreno (1st ward) — introduced an ordinance to the Chicago City Council May 28 that sought to raise the local minimum to $15 an hour. Corporations with more than $50 million local revenue would have a one-year phase in period; small- and med-sized businesses would have just over five years to comply.Arena said July 9 that the Working Group’s $13 an hour is a “first step,” [but] “a fair wage of $15 an hour can make all the difference in the lives of our fellow Chicagoans struggling to make ends meet.” Fellow Progressive Reform Caucus member Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd ward) said that “Studies have shown that once you put more money in the pockets of workers and consumers, they spend it in the local economy.”
The Raise Chicago Coalition said that a one-parent family with one child would need at least $48,840 annual income to pay for shelter, food, clothing and medical care in Chicago, as it cited a report and budget calculator by the Economic Policy Institute. The current mini- mum wage of $8.25 an hour equals just $17,000 for a full-time worker.
Katelyn Johnson is executive director of Action Now, which is a member of the Raise Chicago Coalition. “We have gone door-to-door talking to the people of Chicago and they agree that $15 an hour is the minimum needed to survive in Chicago without relying on public assistance,” Johnson said.
Besides Action Now, other members of the Raise Chicago Coalition include the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, the Grassroots Collaborative, ONE Northside and SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana.
Amisha Patel, executive director of the Grassroots Collaborative said that the Fight for 15 is a national movement, and Chicago should take the lead. Patel cited action in Seattle to phase in a wage hike to $15 (see related story on Page 10) and said that Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City were proposing to do the same. President Obama supports legislation in Congress that would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, but he blames Republicans for preventing a vote on the bill.
Meanwhile, according to the thinkprogress.org website of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, 10 states have passed legislation to raise their minimum wage since January; they range from Delaware at $8.25 an hour to Massachusetts at $11.
After the May 28 Chicago City Council meeting, Reuters news service quoted Munoz that between 12 and 15 members of the 50-person City Council backed the $15 per hour wage. However, the Raise Chicago Coalition said they had 21 votes.
Mayor Emanuel’s Working Group, however, says that Chicago should not pass an ordinance to raise the minimum wage until action by the Illinois General Assembly in the fall veto session.
The Working Group recommended that those under age 18 could be paid 50 cents below the minimum, because they would be less likely to be heads of households. “To prevent the Chicago minimum wage in- crease from [having] a negative impact on youth employment, we believe it is necessary to adopt the state exemption.”
Tipped workers would receive an increase of $1 an hour, to $5.95 by 2016, according to the Working Group’s recommendation. Illinois law requires employers to pay 60 per- cent of the state minimum for tipped employees.
The Working Group developed the recommendation following six weeks of research, analysis and public engagement that included five public meetings across the City. More than 200 comments were submitted on- line. The group also consulted with experts and advocates from labor and business in developing its recommendation, which was adopted with a 14-3 vote.
The breakdown was as follows:
• John Bouman, president, Sargent Shriver Center on Poverty Law and Working Group co-chair
• Ald. Will Burns (4th ward), Working Group co-chair
• Deborah Bennett, senior program officer, Polk Bros. Foundation
• Matt Brandon, SEIU Local 73
• Ald. Carrie Austin (34th ward), chair of City Council Committee on budget and government operations
• Ald. Walter Burnett (27th ward), chair of City Council Committee on pedestrian and traffic safety
• Ald. Emma Mitts (37th ward), chair of City Council Committee on license and consumer protection
• Ald. Joe Moore (49th ward) chair of City Council Committee on special events, cultural affairs and recreation
• Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th ward)
• Ald. Ariel Reboyras, (30th ward), chair of City Council Committee on human relations
• Ald. JoAnn Thompson (16th ward)
• Sol Flores, executive director, La Casa Norte
• Maria Pesqueira, Mujeres Latinas en Accion
• Andrea Zopp, president and CEO, Chicago Urban League
• Theresa Mintle, CEO, Chica- goland Chamber of Commerce
• Sam Toia, President, Illinois Restaurant Association
• Tanya Triche, vice president and general counsel, Illinois Retail Merchants Association
The Chicagoland Chamber said on its website July 8 that it had opposed raising the minimum wage because “Illinois is among the slowest states in economic recovery from the recession and has one of the highest minimum wage rates in the United States” and “the Chamber disagrees with the notion that the state of Illinois should have multiple minimum wage rates.”
Illinois Retail Merchants Association CEO Rob Karr also cited the state’s fifth highest unemployment rate in the nation and said, “We know hiring will not increase if the mini- mum wage goes up to $10 per hour.”
Justin Jia and Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editorial Intern and Editor-In-Chief