CHICAGO – Today Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and nearly one thousand Chicago area residents, labor union members, business owners, and elected officials rallied in support of a proposed increase in Illinois’ minimum wage to $6.50 an hour.
“A person working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year should not live in poverty. You cannot raise a family, you cannot put food on the table, you cannot put shoes on your children’s feet on $10,712 a year. Raising the minimum wage at least gives families a fighting chance,” Blagojevich told the crowd.
Gov. Blagojevich initiated legislation earlier in the spring legislative session that would increase the minimum wage by $1.35, to $6.50 an hour.
He argued that the value of the minimum wage has steadily decreased over the past three decades because inflation and the cost of living have outpaced increases in the minimum wage level. At the current rate of $5.15 per hour, a full-time worker earning the minimum wage has a pre-tax annual gross income of $10,712 – or 55% of the 2002 federal poverty level for a family of four ($18,244), and also falls short of the threshold for a family with a single parent and one child ($12,400).
“The minimum wage today buys about a third less than it did a quarter century ago,” said the governor. “If the minimum wage had been allowed to keep pace with increased worker productivity, it would be $13.80 today. What we’re asking for—$6.50—is modest by comparison.”
Blagojevich illustrated the need for the increase by giving real life examples of hard-working individuals who are struggling to make ends meet on $5.15 an hour, the current minimum wage.
Alvita Brown, who attended the rally, works 30 to 40 hours a week at McDonald’s for $5.15 an hour. Even though she works full-time, Brown relies on food stamps to feed her 7 and 9-year old daughters.
“We should do whatever we can to make sure working people earn enough to live,” said Margaret Blackshere, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO. “The proposal, strongly backed by the governor, labor and community groups is an important step in helping the lowest wage earners build more economic independence.”
The benefits of raising the minimum wage reach beyond the families of workers earning the minimum wage. According to a 2003 University of Illinois study, the higher wage could mean as much as $900 million in additional sales for Illinois businesses. With an expected ripple-effect of wage increases among those currently earning between $6.50 and $7.50 an hour, the additional sales could total as much as $1.2 billion.
“Here’s the bottom line – if people are paid more, not only are they better equipped to care for their families, they have more money to spend in their communities,” said Robert Blackwell, president and CEO of Electronic Knowledge Interchange. “A minimum wage increase is good for families and it’s good for businesses.”
The minimum wage legislation, Senate Bill 600, is awaiting approval from the full Senate. If it’s passed by both chambers and signed by Gov. Blagojevich, Illinois will join 11 other states and the District of Columbia that have a minimum wage higher than the federal standard. The other states are Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
“There’s dignity in work and every kind of work deserves a dignified wage. It is time we raise the minimum wage,” the governor concluded.