Minimum wage debate
4:40 pm
Thu March 20, 2014

Minimum Wage Proposal Clears First Hurdle

capitol
Credit Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  A plan to raise the minimum wage in Illinois has cleared its first legislative hurdle. But as it moves through the General Assembly, it continues to draw criticism from business groups.

The plan would gradually increase the state's minimum wage to $10.65 an hour. Illinois' current rate is $8.25, already one of the highest in the nation.

Proponents say putting more money into the pockets of low-income workers will boost the economy. But Rob Carr, with the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, disagrees.

"We know it doesn't fight poverty because over the same decade that we've had the minimum wage go up 50 percent, Illinois' poverty rate has increased 36 percent," he said.

Carr says the hike would be a "job-killer," especially for small businesses, like Mike Murphy's.

Murphy has owned Charlie Parker's Diner in Springfield through nine increases in the minimum wage. He opposes another, but asked whether those hikes have cost his employees jobs:

"I have not fired someone, nor have I closed the business," he said. "I'm not crying wolf here. I will not close my business because of that. We will make it work, but it will be painful."

Sen. Kim Lightford (D-Maywood) has been working to raise Illinois' minimum wage for years. She says a minimum wage should be a "living wage."

"If you're still relying on government assistance...then we're really not doing ourselves a service in government because our goal is to move as many people off government assistance and allow them to be reliable themselves."

Minimum wage doesn't cut it for Robert Lee. The 36-year-old works full time at a used car lot in Chicago. He says he has a hard time supporting his wife and four daughters.

"When I have to tell them no because of what I make, I have to go in my room and feel ... small," he said.

Lee has been homeless twice while working full-time. But he says at a previous job that paid $10 an hour, he was able to get an apartment for his family after just two months of work.

The legislation was approved in committee and is awaiting a vote by the full Senate.