Groups tout increasing minimum wage

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By Mary J. Cristobal
Alton Telegraph, Feb 14 2011
SPRINGFIELD — More dimes in the pockets of Illinois residents would lead to more spending.

At least that’s what labor union and community organizations said during a news conference held last Thursday to support a bill that would increase the state’s minimum wage up to more than $10 per hour within four years.

An increased minimum wage could stimulate the economy, said Ron P. Baiman, an economist from the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.

"We really have to redirect a lot of income toward people who will spend it — if you want to keep your economy going, if you want it to grow," Baiman said.

Minimum-wage workers are not only teenagers trying to make pocket money. Seventy percent of minimum-wage workers are heads of households, Baiman said.

As of Jan. 1, Illinois has the third-highest minimum wage in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The minimum wage is $8.25 per hour, which was increased from $8 on July 1.

"On the pure economic rationale, without bringing up demand, without stimulating the economy, I don’t see how we’re going to grow," Baiman said. "Illinois has been very slow growth. In fact, we haven’t had any jobs growth. Before the 2000 recession, we still had fewer people employed than we had in 2000. That’s after 10 years of people entering the labor force. This is not a viable situation. We can’t keep going on. We need to find a way to get job growth restarted."

Under Senate Bill 1565, the current minimum wage would be increased by 50 cents an hour plus inflation each year, so it gradually would be restored to its historic value. By 2014, Illinois’ minimum wage would climb to $10.65. And after 2014, the rate would be adjusted annually to keep up with the cost of living.

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Westchester, sponsors the bill and said she is concerned about the state’s business climate.

"As we go forward, I want to make sure that minimum-wage workers ... are not ignored and that they are not forgotten," Lightford said. "Their issues and rights need to be a part the discussion. Senate Bill 1565 will help to keep this important issue on the table as members of the General Assembly work to keep Illinois competitive and fair for business and for workers. Workers have to be included in discussions as we move forward working on the business climate."

The bill also would stop "wage discrimination," supporters say. It would prohibit a 50-cent-per-hour lower wage for employees under the age of 18, and would put a stop to a "training wage," which allows employers to pay people 50 cents less per hour for the first 90 days of employment, said Timothy E. Drea, secretary-treasurer for the Illinois AFL-CIO.

But merchants and businesses are putting their foot down on a potential minimum wage increase.

Rob Karr, a lobbyist for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said another increase to the minimum wage also would increase labor costs.

Karr said he and other business associations have been occupied defending the state of Illinois in the past couple of months. There were the "vulture-like" behaviors of other states’ governors luring in Illinois businesses, the "expensive" workers’ compensation system and the recent corporate tax increase.

"And if we throw (an increased minimum wage) on top of this, frankly, I don’t think you can defend it anymore," he said.

"Employers only have so much money to spend and invest in the state and in their business," Karr said. "They can’t go and print more money; they can’t levy additional taxes. They can’t pass much in terms of price increasing, because the consumers can’t afford it. So, they really only have two choices — you lay people off, or you close your business."