The minimum wage in Illinois has stayed at $8.25 an hour since 2011, but a bill working its way through the legislature aims to raise it gradually to help workers that are struggling to make ends meet.
House Bill 198 would increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2022. The measure is supported largely by Democrats and labor unions.
State Rep. Will Guzzardi, the bill’s lead sponsor, says there’s still something to be gained in the fight:
“The legislature will be on the record saying that $15 an hour is what constitutes a living wage in this state,” Guzzardi said Wednesday in Peoria, “and that way, when we get a governor in office who’s more willing to respect the needs of working people, we can actually get this thing done.”
The Chicago Democrat is on a multi-city tour to encourage support for increasing the state minimum wage. Guzzardi's first stop was in Champaign, where he was joined by State Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana.
Ammons told a rally that a higher minimum wage would help both workers and the economy.
"A lot of communities depend on sales tax revenue, and so do companies. And when working people don’t have disposable income," she said, "then, of course, the drop in sales tax for communities is easy for us to see and make that correlation.”
Proponents of the bill say it could mean the difference between a worker struggling paycheck-to-paycheck and one being able to afford living expenses. Critics say it would hurt businesses, forcing them to lay off workers.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has opposed similar efforts to raise the minimum wage. He's said he would sign a minimum-wage increase into law only if the General Assembly also passes business-friendly legislation, such as workers’ compensation reform.
Ammons says House Bill 198 would help lift 40 percent of the state’s workforce out of poverty and boost the economy.
Guzzardi says there's also a mindset among some people that $15 an hour is needed only in the Chicago area. He says that serves as motivation for this minimum-wage tour.
Quavlin Moore is a single mother of four and a home-care worker who is paid the minimum wage. She told the Peoria rally that an increase to $15 would mean more money for groceries and some new school shoes for her kids:
“A lot of people that I live around locally, we’re all in the same spot,” she said. “We’re doing more and more and more and more, and it feels like we’re not going anywhere.”
Guzzardi says increasing the minimum wage would boost the economy as more workers would spend their paychecks and rely less on government assistance.
Diana Inman, a home-care worker in Decatur, told the Champaign gathering that she works two jobs but can't afford to retire at 67 because she earns only $10.35 an hour.
"If I could get up to $15 an hour, I could drop one of those jobs and leave it open for somebody else," she said. "But with the economy, I've got to work two jobs just to pay my bills."
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Walters of Homer said she had to quit classes at Parkland College and take a second job to provide for her children.
Ammons said, "It's very helpful for us to be able to talk about the stories of real people, to share those stories."
A recent study conducted by the National Employment Law Project says more than 35 percent of the workforce around Champaign-Urbana (about 47,500 people) earns less than $15 per hour. The study also says 17.4 percent earn less than $10 per hour.
Other cities on the statewide tour to highlight Guzzardi’s legislation include Carbondale, East St. Louis, and Springfield. The minimum-wage bill cleared a House committee earlier this month.
- Illinois Public Radio members Jeff Bossert in Champaign and Cass Herrington in Peoria contributed to this story.