Cook County approves $13 an hour minimum wage

SUN-TIMES MEDIA WIRE - Minimum-wage workers in the Cook County suburbs are getting a raise, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

County Board members Wednesday approved an ordinance that will boost the minimum hourly wage from $8.25 to $13 by 2020.

The commissioners’ vote affects about 200,000 workers in the suburbs and unincorporated areas, said the ordinance’s sponsor, Commissioner Larry Suffredin. Chicago aldermen voted nearly two years ago to raise the minimum wage for businesses in the city to $13 by 2019.

The county vote came over the opposition of business groups, which claimed businesses would struggle to afford a payroll increase on top of a higher county sales tax and record property tax increases in Chicago.

Republican commissioners Timothy Schneider, Peter Silvestri, and Ed Moody voted against the minimum wage boost, and Gregg Goslin voted “present.”

“I recognize there will always be opposition to measures like this, but let’s get real. Who can live on $8.25 an hour?” Board President Toni Preckwinkle said at a news conference after the vote.

“Why would you relegate entire categories of worker to a wage structure that’s below the poverty line? At $13 an hour, nobody’s going to get rich.”

Workers’ will see their first pay increase this July, when the minimum wage will increase to $10 per hour from the current state minimum wage of $8.25. The minimum hourly pay will increase by $1 per year each year until 2020, and will go up each year thereafter in step with the inflation rate or 2.5 percent, whichever is lower.

The added payroll costs for employers will come on top of increased burdens for employee medical care and paid sick leave that have been tacked on federal and local laws in recent years, said Tanya Triche, vice president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. Pay increases could force businesses to lay off workers, leave Cook County, or go out of business altogether, she said.

“Suburban small business owners are really concerned about the level to which you’re willing to experiment” with wage increases, Triche said.

“If you don’t have employers, people aren’t working.”

Suffredin said that increasing the pay of low-wage workers can stimulate a local economy, because those workers need to spend every cent they get.

“They’re not going to put money into a 401(k) account, they’re not going to put this into an investment account. Every dollar they get is going to be used to support their family, so it’s going to come right back into the economy,” Suffredin said.

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