$15 minimum wage is no windfall for Illinois workers

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Nearly a quarter of workers in Illinois would see their pay almost double under a proposal nearing final approval in the Legislature, but inflation will take a huge bite by the time the state’s minimum wage reaches $15 an hour in 2025.

The statewide pay floor has remained at $8.25 since 2010, and new Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker made boosting it a central component of his successful campaign. The Senate last week approved a gradual hourly increase to $15, and the House is poised to send the legislation to Pritzker to sign before he presents his first budget plan on Feb. 20.

Illinois will join Washington, D.C., and at least four other states with a $15-an-hour minimum by 2025, an 82 percent spike in current base pay.But it may not be the momentous impact on low-wage workers that some supporters expected.

Using state labor and federal inflation statistics, The Associated Press projected that assuming the current inflation rate of 2.1 percent each year through 2025, $15 then will be worth the equivalent of $10.46 now. So instead of an 81 percent wage increase from $8.25 to $15, after inflation, low-wage workers will be taking home only 27 percent more than they are today.

“Given the business opposition, you’d think that the state was proposing to give away bags of money and shut down every burger joint along the border,” Robert Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois, said after reviewing the AP’s numbers.

Bruno co-authored of studies on the impact of minimum-wage increases in Illinois for the university’s Project for Middle Class Renewal and the Illinois Economic Policy Institute.

They found that increases reduce worker turnover, trimming employer costs and correlates with only a small cut in the number of hours employers can offer minimum-wage employees and a small increase in consumer prices.

“Increasing the minimum wage is a reasonable and evidence-based way to help working families earn a livable income,” Bruno said.

Business owners complain that the phase-in is too fast. But 36-year-old Laquesha Russell, who makes $10.78 an hour as a home health care worker in Springfield, bemoaned “it’s going to be a long process to get up to $15.”

Despite the delay and inflation’s expected damage, advocates contend that the plan “will lift out of poverty” many of the 1.4 million workers — nearly a quarter of the state’s workforce — who would benefit from the bump.