Ill. Senate approves increase in minimum hourly wage to $7.50

By Ryan Keith

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – State senators approved a $1 increase in Illinois’ minimum wage Wednesday, an idea that could benefit hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers but has strong opposition.

The measure approved 33-21 along mostly partisan lines would increase the wage from $6.50 an hour to $7.50 an hour. It also would call for yearly increases in the minimum wage to keep up with inflation.

The proposal, which Gov. Rod Blagojevich promised to push in his successful re-election bid, now heads to the House where it’s unclear how soon it could be approved. House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said Tuesday he supports raising the minimum wage but the measure was under review.

Blagojevich applauded the Senate’s move and urged the House to follow suit. Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, said legislators shouldn’t wait to act.

“I would think the House members would see the light themselves without being told what to do,” Jones said. “This is a no-brainer for us. It’s the right thing to do.”

Supporters, mostly Democrats, say the proposal would benefit about 300,000 workers who now make less than $7.50 an hour, and about as many workers who make more than that but likely would see pay bumps under new structures created by the wage increase.

They acknowledge that bumping the annual salary of someone working 40 hours a week at minimum wage from $13,520 to $15,600 isn’t much, but they say every little bit helps.

“A job should lift you out of poverty,” said Sen. Kim Lightford, a Chicago Democrat who sponsored the bill.

“It should not keep you in poverty,” she added.

But Republicans and other critics say the raise could particularly hurt small businesses and caution legislators shouldn’t act so quickly.

Democrats who will control Congress in January have promised to raise the national minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, from the current $5.15 an hour.

That would put Illinois on an even playing field competing for jobs with neighboring states.

Illinois could lose jobs to states where the minimum wage is much lower if the state’s raise is approved first, critics warn, saying it would send the wrong message to businesses about locating and growing here and creating better-paying work.

“We do not want working families and parents with children working minimum wage jobs,” said Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale.