February 23, 2011

Possible wage increase

A proposed minimum wage increase could have quite an effect on low-wage earners across Illinois, a group that includes Knox College student workers.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood), would increase Illinois’ current $8.25 per hour minimum wage to $10.03 per hour, which would be the equivalent of Illinois’ minimum wage in 1968, $1.60 per hour. The bill is designed to raise the minimum wage 50 cents plus inflation every year until it reaches its intended level.

“There has rightfully been a lot of discussion lately about how to improve the state’s business climate,” Lightford said in a prepared statement. “But as we go forward, I want to make sure that minimum wage workers aren’t ignored and forgotten. “

The proposal comes after a minimum wage increase went into effect last July, increasing the state’s minimum wage to $8.25 per hour. Illinois, which is already well ahead of the $7.25 federal minimum wage, currently holds the third-highest minimum wage in the country, next to Oregon ($8.50) and Washington ($8.67).

Supporters of the bill say it will help money flow into the economy while reducing the state’s poverty levels. Opponents claim the bill will cause local businesses to move to bordering states, all of which currently have a $7.25 per hour minimum wage.

In Galesburg, where unemployment rates have hovered near 10 percent the past few years, a minimum wage increase is a contentious issue.

“As a guy that’s worked more than enough part-time jobs in my life and more than enough minimum-wage jobs in my life, I’m kind of in favor of rising minimum wage, which is probably unusual amongst local business owners,” Ben Stomberg, owner of Stone Alley Books & Collectibles on Seminary St., said. “As far as I’m concerned, here in my store, the number of hours we pay out to part-time labor is so small that the increase doesn’t really matter that much to me as it would my employees.”

Assistant Professor of Economics Carol Scotton does not subscribe to the idea that a minimum wage increase in Illinois would have entirely adverse effects either.

“Most minimum wage work is in the service sector in jobs that are hard to move across state lines,” Scotton said, adding that the increase could allow people to work fewer hours and further their education.“[But] would this make Illinois workers ‘too expensive?’ Would firms cut back on workers or hours? I don’t think so.”

John Heasly, owner of the Beanhive Coffeehouse and Tearoom, , has a different perspective on the proposed legislation.

“I’d have to raise prices and cut people’s hours a lot,” Heasly said. “We’re barely making it as it is. So, no, I wouldn’t support [it].”

Knox student workers working the maximum 10-hours per week would see an additional $35.60 with each paycheck if the bill were to be signed into law. Still, some students aren’t convinced.

“I don’t think there should be an increase of minimum wage. [It] just went up to $8.25 and would just lead to greater inflation if increased to $10,” said sophomore Nate Williams, who receives federal work-study working in the Sports Information Office.

The bill, SB1565, has yet to be assigned to a senate committee hearing.

Matt McKinney
Matt McKinney is a senior majoring in creative writing and minoring in journalism. His experience with journalism ranges from a year as co-sports editor for TKS to an internship with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he used his Spanish language skills to report a front-page story on changes to federal immigration policy. He has also written for The Galesburg Register-Mail and Knox’s Office of Communications. Matt is the recipient of the 2012 Knox College Kimble Prize for Feature Journalism and two awards from the Illinois College Press Association, including a first place award for sports game coverage. He is currently interning virtually with The Tampa Bay Times and will pursue his master's next year at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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