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Illinois Blazes Trail in the Heartland, First Midwestern State to Adopt $15 Minimum

Governor Expected to Sign Bill that Raises Wages for a Million Workers

Washington, DC—The Illinois House of Representatives today voted to pass a $15 minimum wage, following Senate passage earlier this month. Illinois is poised to become the fifth state in the nation – and the first in the Midwest – to adopt a $15 minimum wage. The state follows closely after New Jersey, which adopted $15 earlier this month, and joins Massachusetts, New York, and California in gradually raising its wages closer to what is widely considered the very minimum necessary for a worker to cover basic costs like rent, food, and transportation.

“NELP applauds the workers and organizations who made this tremendous victory in Springfield happen through their countless and tireless hours of organizing and struggle,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “Because of their efforts, over a million workers across Illinois are going to be that much closer to making their rent and car payments on time, spending more time with family, and living with dignity.”

The new law calls for gradually raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2025 for most workers. Illinois’ minimum wage had been locked at $8.25 since 2010, when workers received a 25 cent increase.  Under the law, however, some workers’ wage will not reach $15. Workers under 18 who work under 650 hours a year will be entitled to $13 by 2025, up from the current $7.75. The tipped minimum wage will continue to be pegged at 60 percent of the regular minimum wage, gradually increasing the amount that service employers are required to pay tipped employees from the current $4.95 to $9.00 by 2025.

The increase comes on the heels of increased worker demands for fair pay and greater public investment, as workers feel increasingly squeezed at work and at home. Last year, a Federal Reserve Board report found that 40 percent of Americans didn’t have $400 to cover an unexpected expense. In the past two years alone, Chicago has seen major labor actions by teachers, hotel, and airport workers, resulting in improved pay and working conditions for workforces that are crucial to the city’s economy. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that 1.03 million workers will directly benefit if the minimum wage increases to $15 bill.

“Illinois is setting an important precedent for the region, which suffers from the same spiraling costs of living as other states. And we’re seeing the change that progressive leadership can make, after former governor Bruce Rauner vetoed a $15 bill in 2017 and with the Michigan legislature slashing wage increases that the people of Michigan supported. Unfortunately, the current bill still leaves young workers and tipped workers behind,” said Owens. Minimum wage workers not only are much more likely to experience poverty, but low wages also impact women and workers of color at higher rates. Analysis by the Economic Policy Institute of data from states with no tipped minimum wage, so-called “one fair wage” states, shows that service workers in these states earn more and suffer lower rates of poverty. In New Jersey, legislators rejected similar efforts by corporate lobbyists to leave young workers behind.

By 2024, the Economic Policy Institute estimates that nowhere in the entire country, including rural areas, will a single adult without children be able to cover basic costs on less than a $15 minimum wage job with full time hours. Currently, such a worker needs $16.18 an hour in the Springfield, IL metropolitan area. That same number for the Chicago area is $18.56 an hour. Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 would lift pay for a quarter of all workers in the United States and increase consumer spending, thus boosting demand for goods and services and circulating money in the economy, creating a virtuous cycle that benefits workers, businesses, and communities.

Illinois’ $15 wage shows that the Fight for $15 is not slowing down and continues to gain momentum across the entire country. Since workers in New York first walked out of fast-food jobs in November 2012 to demand a $15 minimum wage and a union, more than 20 states and 40 cities and counties have raised their minimum wage, with raises amounting to more than $68 billion. Additional campaigns to raise the minimum wage are underway at the federal level and in more than 15 states, including Connecticut, Vermont, Maryland, Minnesota, and Hawaii, all of which are considering minimum wages of $15 or more per hour.

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The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers. As a national intermediary and back-up resource for many minimum wage campaigns around the country, NELP is pleased to be able to support the work of coalitions across the country fighting to raise the minimum wage. For more information about NELP, visit www.nelp.org.