Low-Wage Workers Elated After Governor Quinn Calls for Raising the Minimum Wage During State of the State Address



Statewide / Springfield: Scott Vogel,  scott.vogel@seiuhcil.org

Chicago: Catherine Murrell, catherine@standupchicago.org

Raise Illinois Coalition Issues Statement After Governor Calls for Swift Action to Solve Income Inequality Crisis

(January 29, 2014, Springfield) – Governor Quinn called on state lawmakers to raise the minimum wage in Illinois and spoke forcefully about the urgent need to fight income inequality during his State of the State address today.

Regina Williams, 44, who makes $8.25 an hour at a McDonald’s in Decatur, went to the Capitol today for the State of the State address. She urgently needs the minimum wage to go up.  Regina works part time so she can care for her three grandsons, ages one, two, and three so her 20-year-old daughter can study and get her GED.  Four years ago, Regina couldn’t find work and was forced to live in transitional housing.  In September 2013 she started doing fast-food work but she struggles just to survive.  Regina is stuck between two horrible choices: wanting to work more hours to increase her income, and being unable to care for her grandsons and to help her daughter.

“I’m drowning right now. I’m just barely hanging on financially,” said Regina. “Everyone I know is desperately struggling. Look around and all you see are people trying to just get by.”

Right now, Illinois’ minimum wage is $8.25 an hour.  Legislation is pending in both the state House and Senate that would raise the minimum in Illinois to over $10.65.  The bills are HB 3718, sponsored by State Representative Art Turner (9th District) and co-sponsored by Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (25th District), and SB 68 by State Senator Kimberly Lightford (4th District).

Britney Swanson, 26, a nursing home worker in Galesburg, works full time making $8.35 an hour and is seven weeks pregnant with her and her boyfriend’s first child.  During his speech Governor Quinn spoke about the estimated 400,000 minimum wage workers in Illinois  who are doing everything they possibly can to work hard and better their lives, but simply can’t get ahead making poverty level wages.  Britney is one of those workers who needs Illinois to raise the minimum wage. She lives with her brother and mom, who isn’t working due to a disability, to pull together enough money to make ends meet.

“Now that I’m pregnant, and thinking about my family’s future, I just don’t know how we’re going to make it,” said Britney.  “How am I going to be able to afford child care? I want to work and be self-sufficient, but to do that I have to make a living wage.”

The Raise Illinois coalition said that raising the minimum wage would strengthen Illinois’ economy, fight job loss, and help small businesses by putting more money in the pockets of consumers. It is estimated that raising the minimum wage to $10.65 per hour would inject a net of $2.5 billion into the state’s anemic economy.  In addition, over 71% of Illinois voters support raising the minimum wage according to a statewide survey by the National Employment Law Project.

There are an estimated 400,000 minimum wage workers in Illinois.   Minimum wage workers earn only $17,000 a year, working full-time. Behind these workers are hundreds of thousands of other people—children, spouses, aging parents—who rely on that worker for support.  In fact, 110,000 full-time Illinois workers are still living in poverty.  (The federal poverty threshold for a family of three is $18,284.)

Raising the minimum wage not only impacts workers and their families, but creates an economic ripple effect in their communities. Consumer spending drives our economy and consumers can’t spend what they don’t have. Minimum wage workers, like all workers, are consumers. In addition, businesses and organizations see cost savings from lower employee turnover and reduced expenses associated with hiring and training new employees. Higher wages increase productivity and improve product quality, customer satisfaction and company reputation.

“Our home care aides make it possible for deserving older persons to live at home, where they want to live, for as long as they want to live there. Not one of our aides is paid commensurate with the savings they provide to the taxpayers of this state.  But we believe that paying higher wages is good business. Through increases in wages we have reduced turnover of our aide’s which has led to more consistent care for the older adults we serve,” said Darby Anderson, Senior Vice President, Addus HomeCare.

Minimum wage workers aren’t the only ones who desperately need Illinois’ minimum wage to go up. Hundreds of thousands of other low-income workers make slightly above the minimum wage but still struggle to survive.

For example, Kenya Baker, a single mom  with kids ages 3, 11, and 12, and a nursing home worker for four years on the north side of Chicago, makes just $9.65 an hour. Although she would like to go back to school to better her life, she simply can’t afford it. Kenya says she doesn’t have the luxury to get angry when politicians or anyone else insults her self-worth or how hard she works at her job. Her focus is on raising her kids.

“If these politicians saw their own parents in a nursing home and witnessed how much we do to give our patients quality care and comfort, and understood just how little we get paid and what it takes to survive, I honestly believe they would vote to raise the minimum wage,” said Kenya Baker.  “Doing so would inevitably lift up all low-wage workers.”

Raise Illinois is led by a coalition made up of community, business, faith, and labor organizations along with minimum wage workers and supporters that are committed to fighting for a raise in the minimum wage in Illinois.  Raise Illinois is a major legislative and grassroots campaign to increase Illinois’ minimum wage from the current $8.25 per hour to $10.65 an hour. www.raiseillinois.com



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