Our view: Minimum wage increase should consider all voices

J.B. Pritzker touted his plans to increase Illinois’ minimum wage to $15 an hour as the Democratic nominee for governor in 2018, and he won the election in a landslide.

So we had to expect that a move to increase the minimum wage – currently at $8.25 an hour – would follow after Pritzker took office.

But the plan passed Thursday by Senate Democrats on a 39-18 party-line vote does not seem in line with Pritzker’s inauguration day promise to listen to people from around the state on important issues.

Unlike states such as New York, which also is on a path to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour, Illinois’ minimum wage plan shows no consideration for differences between rural and urban economies.

The proposal in Illinois calls for the minimum wage to increase to $9.25 on Jan. 1, 2020, and $10 on July 1, 2020. It then would increase by $1 on Jan. 1 of each year until reaching $15 an hour in 2025.

The measure likely will harm the very people it purports to help by reducing the number of low-skilled and entry-level jobs available. It also will make neighboring states more attractive to employers; place undue strain on social service agencies, public schools and universities; and likely result in higher prices for everyone.

People are voicing these concerns, but they largely have been shrugged off so far.

The measure has yet to pass the Illinois House, which is scheduled to take it up when lawmakers are back in session Wednesday. The hope is that some of the concerns about the effects this will have on regional economies outside Chicago will be taken into account.

It’s true that this rollout could be worse, and some increase likely isn’t out of line considering the minimum has remained unchanged for 12 years. Business owners will have six years to adjust and plan for the increase in wages – or to plan a move to another state. There will be temporary tax credits for businesses with 50 or fewer employees designed to offset the cost of the state-mandated wage increases.

But that is not alleviating the concerns about job loss, reduced hours and damage to local economies.

If the ultimate goal is a $15-an-hour minimum statewide, give parts of the state outside Chicago longer to get there. Allow economists to make a determination how great an increase different areas of the state can sustain each year, rather than tying us to an arbitrary $1-a-year schedule. Consider a pause to re-evaluate after the minimum wage reaches $12 or $13 an hour. Consider whether a $15 minimum should apply to workers who rely on tips.

Pritzker has pledged to listen to those outside his party if they are sincere and willing to work toward compromise. He has not made good on his word so far on this issue.