SPRINGFIELD — Illinois' minimum wage, now the third-highest in the country, would gradually increase to $10.55 an hour and again become the highest in the United States under legislation approved by a Senate committee Wednesday.
SB 1565, sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, was approved by the Senate Executive Committee on a 9-5 party-line vote, with all Republicans including Sen. Dale Righter of Mattoon voting no.
The measure now goes to the full Senate although Lightford said she hoped to work with business groups on the bill, a process that could go beyond the Legislature's scheduled May 31 adjournment date.
Illinois' minimum wage, now $8.25 an hour, would increase in yearly increments until it reached $10.55 an hour in 2015. After that it would be adjusted annually according to the inflation rate.
Even a gradual increase would be harmful, said opponents of the bill including Lauren Klein, owner of Latte Da, a Champaign coffee shop with several local outlets. Because of time constraints Klein didn't get to testify before the committee Wednesday, but she sat through the entire hearing.
"I would have told Senator Lightford thank you, because I totally understand what she is doing and I know it comes from a very good place," Klein said after the hearing. "I agree that our workers should get paid more. We have a small staff and I know all of them personally. They all have bachelor's degrees, they're amazing and they do deserve $10 an hour.
"But it's not 2003 when they passed the last increase. It's a completely different economy now and I just can't afford it. My husband and I both work for Latte Da and we both work about 60 hours a week and take home a minimum-wage paycheck."
Klein said if the minimum-wage increase is approved by the Legislature, she would have to close the shop on Curtis Road at Carle Clinic and possibly reduce hours at the outlet at the Champaign Public Library.
"I am totally supportive, but not now," Klein said of the possible wage increase. "It's the worst possible time, things are just getting better. Let us catch our breaths for a minute."
Doug Knight, owner of Knight's Action Park in Springfield, said that after the last minimum-wage increase, he had to close his water park an hour earlier every day to make up for the added cost.
"If my expenses go up I have to raise my prices. How high can I raise my prices and expect to hang onto my customers?" he said.
David Vite, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said the Illinois unemployment rate for teenagers 16 to 19 years old is 4.5 percent greater than the rest of the country.
"That says to me that there's a reason and the reason is the same that the Illinois unemployment rate is higher generally than anywhere else in the Midwest and third in the United States," Vite said.
He said the teen unemployment rate in Chicago is 48 percent and noted that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been pushing for jobs.
"But we're not going to bring that 48 percent number down by increasing the cost of labor in the city of Chicago," Vite said.
Lightford, though, disputed the belief that most minimum-wage workers are teenagers.
"In fact over 80 percent of minimum-wage employees are adults. Many of them have households and families, and with our economic downturn ... many college graduates are now working minimum-wage jobs," she said. "I think it's really important that if you're willing to work a 40-hour week you shouldn't live in poverty. An individual working 40 hours on our current minimum wage, they make about $16,000 a year."
Kathleen Rubenstein, an attorney with the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago, testified about research conducted by Marc Dossard, a professor in urban planning and public affairs at the University of Illinois Chicago.
Boosting the minimum wage won't mean job losses in Illinois, according to Doussard.
"Increasing the minimum wage will increase money in the pockets of hard-working Illinois families," Rubenstein said. "Those families will be able to increase their consumer spending."
That, according to Doussard's research, would mean $2 billion in increased economic activity and 20,000 new jobs.