Across the country, states have taken it into their own hands to raise the minimum wage, with 18 states raising their minimum wage in 2018 alone. Thanks to the voters who elected a new governor in November, Illinois is now one of them.
Two years ago, instead of using his office to lift citizens out of poverty, former Gov. Rauner resigned his constituents to subsistence wages when he vetoed a bill that would have increased the state’s minimum wage from $8.25 an hour to $15 an hour over five years. Had the legislation passed, it would have been the first minimum wage increase since 2008, when wages only went up $0.50, and would have affected almost 100,000 workers. For context, the national poverty line for a family unit of two people is $16,020 per year, about $1,000 less than a full-time minimum wage employee in the state makes.
This veto was also particularly devastating because Gov. Rauner was Illinois’ last hope at the time. Congress hasn’t raised the federal minimum wage since 2007, and while new minimum wage legislation has been introduced this Congress, it’s unlikely to pass in the Senate.
In justifying his decision to veto in 2017, Gov. Rauner cited a study by the University of Washington. The study stated that an hourly wage increase would be “offset by a reduction of workers’ hours and decreased employment.” However, various researchers have questioned the limited scope of the study, as well as the unrepresentative sampling used to come to its conclusions. In fact, a more representative study by University of California-Berkeley found that “the policy is working as much as you want the policy to increase the wages of low-wage workers.” So, to put it simply, when wages increase workers do indeed make more money.
Not to mention that when workers make more money, they spend more money. The positive effect higher wages has on local businesses cannot be understated and should not be ignored. In a consumer economy such as Illinois’ the best thing anyone can do to facilitate growth is to pay workers more. As such, a $15 an hour minimum wage is a win for the entire state.
Despite former Gov. Rauner having access to this information, he chose to cherry pick what to share with his constituents, and, in the process, take food off the tables of those most in need and the small business owners that service them. Thankfully, voters in the state did not become jaded, or disillusioned with their state government. Instead, they turned out in November and elected Rauner’s opponent, Democrat J.B. Pritzker, who has made raising the minimum wage one of his first priorities. This should serve as encouragement to voters across the country.
Elections do have consequences, and former Gov. Rauner’s loss in November has quickly translated into Illinois’ working class’s gain. By signing a bill raising the state minimum wage to $15 an hour within his first few weeks in office, Gov. Pritzker has shown a commitment to his state’s working class, as well as the businesses that service them.