Governor Quinn said it first. “Nobody in Illinois should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty.” he proclaimed in his State of the State address on February 6, 2013. Then President Obama followed a week later in his State of the Union address, “Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line.”
Responses to these two statements are predictable. Advocates cheered, minimum wage workers said they need the increase now, and business leaders insisted that a wage increase will cost jobs and hurt small businesses. Experts on both sides of the question cite research that supports “their” points-of-view. On the other hand, some mainstream reporters have suggested that the “popular wisdom” may not be as accurate as business leaders stipulate. The President said it succinctly, “For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets.”
PCG has worked diligently over the past two years with others in Raise Illinois, the minimum wage coalition, to raise the minimum wage in Illinois. We have talked about this issue at press conferences, in church education sessions, and in this publication. Surely we’ve said everything that needs to be said.
It’s the connection that our state and national leaders have drawn between the minimum wage and poverty that compels us to speak again.
Clearly, most of the people talking about raising—or not raising—the minimum wage are not minimum-wage earners. Most of us have limited knowledge about what it means to live on the income from a minimum-wage job, and we may rarely think about the correlation between poverty and the minimum wage. Minimum-wage workers do not have that luxury.
Amanda says, “I and my three children have been living with a roommate for the past five years. I have been in this situation so long because I am not able to save any money on my current income.” And, Edward says, “There is constant stress because we are living paycheck to paycheck and never have enough money.”
Justin calls for an increase in the minimum wage. He says, “Trying to raise my daughter while only making minimum wage is extremely stressful. We have to use things like food stamps and a medical card. If the minimum wage was raised then we wouldn’t have to rely on that.”
The last increase in the Illinois minimum wage was July 1, 2010 when the wage went up 25 cents to the current $8.25 an hour. Ironically, the federal poverty level has gone up each of past three years, but the minimum wage has not. Minimum wage workers are slipping further into poverty.
The minimum wage bill that we worked on for two years was never called for a vote in the Illinois Senate, but a new bill is being drafted and will soon be filed for consideration by the 98th General Assembly. We must build on the momentum generated by the current minimum wage conversation and let our Illinois legislators know that we support raising the minimum wage.
We—in this state and in this nation—can no longer have full-time workers living in poverty.
Obama said emphatically in his State of the Union address, “That’s wrong.” And, Quinn asserted, “That’s a principle as old as the Bible.”
We agree. Let’s get to work.