Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his task force recently unveiled plans to increase the city’s minimum wage by almost 64 percent by 2018. This means that if their recommendation is followed, four years from now Chicagoans who are being paid minimum wage will be paid $13 for every hour worked. Emanuel and his task force claim that a higher minimum wage will help improve the quality of life for the 410,000 citizens in Chicago who are currently paid the city’s minimum wage for their labor. Critics meanwhile allege that the task force’s recommendations could tank the city’s already delicate economy.
The task force, launched by Emanuel in June of 2014, has met several times to discuss the issue of the city’s minimum wage, which currently stands at $8.25. While it is higher than the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25, activists have been pushing for a minimum of at least $15 an hour, citing data showing that the current minimum in many places is far below that which is required to support certain groups in society, such as single parents.
The city of Seattle is already preparing to adopt the $15 minimum wage without reservation, which is perhaps one of the reasons why the Emanuel’s task force has recommended a slower approach. Instead of an immediate increase, they advocate an increase that takes place slowly over the course of four years. This cautious approach is also meant to allow a proposed city-wide increase to commence without the interference that a large, almost revolutionary, city-wide wage reform bill would be likely to cause.
Critics of the announcement have lobbed a veritable bevy of accusations at the mayor over the timing and content of the task force’s recommendations. Some have claimed that Emanuel is simply trying to distract the public from the large amounts of violence which claimed over 50 lives over the holiday weekend, a charge which the mayor firmly denies. Others have attacked the plan itself, threatening dire consequences if it is carried out. Stephanie King-Myers, a business owner in the Chicago area, claimed that higher minimum wages would force her to slash her “staff in half,” while increasing her prices so that she could pay her remaining staff. Others in the business community echoed similar sentiments.
Meanwhile, despite angering local chimerical interests, the proposed increase in the minimum wage has also generated support from those in the progressive political community. In an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, Alderman Roderick T. Sawyer claimed that, contrary to the statements made by some in the business community, increasing the minimum hourly wage would “achieve a broader revenue base, stabilize neighborhoods…[and] produce positive growth throughout the city.” He also argued that increasing the minimum wage would help to inspire the young people in the city who he believes “have yet to see proof that ‘if you work hard and play by the rules, you can succeed’.”
However there still is the matter of cost. Obviously increasing the minimum wage will increase the labor costs borne by businesses in the area. It is what they shall do to make up for these costs that worries most observers. For instance, Gab Evans, an HIV training specialist, said that she would support the task force’s recommendation for a higher minimum wage if she were sure that businesses would simply take the hit instead of pushing the added costs onto the consumer.
According to Chris Johnson, the advocacy director for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, local businesses are unlikely to absorb the increased cost of labor if the law recommended by the task force is put into effect. Instead, he argues that in order to maintain profitability and comply with higher minimum wage laws, businesses, far from simply taking the new costs in stride, will just “make cuts elsewhere,” meaning “fewer jobs and higher prices” for consumers.
By Andrew Waddell
Chicago-Sun Times 2